National Geographic : 2012 Feb
• a not uncommon fate for young court brides. Kemp named the draw- ing "La Bella Principessa," the beautiful princess. In Kemp and Cotte published their ndings in a book. Sev- eral prominent Leonardo scholars agreed, others were skeptical. Carmen Bambach, curator of drawings at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, was quoted as saying that the portrait simply "does not look like a Leonardo." Another scholar thought the image too "sweet." e specter of a high-quality forgery was raised. Doubt seemed to collect around the portrait's sudden, almost miraculous appearance. Where had it come from? Kemp didn't know. en, almost like divine intervention, a message came from D. R. Edward Wright, emeritus professor of art history at the University of South Florida. Having followed the very public dispute, Wright suggested to Kemp, whom he had never met, that his answer might lie in the National Library of Poland in Warsaw, inside a book called the Sforziad. Wright, an expert on Renaissance iconogra- phy, described it as a deluxe commemorative volume for the marriage of Bianca Sforza, a t occasion for a Leonardo portrait. Funded by a National Geographic Society grant, Kemp and Cotte traveled to Warsaw. Cotte's macrophotography revealed that a folio had been removed from the exact place in the Sforziad where a portrait would have been added. e moment arrived when they inserted a copy of Bianca's portrait into the open book. It t perfectly. For Kemp, this was the clincher: " 'La Bella Principessa' was a one-o portrait by Leonardo that had gone into a book and then onto a shelf." According to Wright, the volume reached Poland in the early 1500s, when a member of the Sforza family married a Polish royal. e leaf was sliced out, possibly at the time of the book's rebinding in the 17th or 18th century. e trail grows faint here. What is known is that at some point it was acquired by an Italian art restorer, whose widow put it up for sale at Christie's. ese are amazing times in the lost-Leonardo arena. In November the National Gallery in London put on exhibit "Salvator Mundi," Leonardo's painting of Jesus Christ holding a globe, a work that had been lost for centuries. In Florence, National Geographic--supported researchers looking for Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari," last seen in the mid-1500s, are using an endoscope to nd out if the painting is hidden behind a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio. Authenticating a centuries-old artwork, especially a potentially rare, extremely valuable Leonardo, is seldom a clear-cut, objective process. Ego, personal taste, and fear of litigation all get tangled up in the judgment. To reach wider consensus, Kemp sent his latest ndings to a number of leading specialists. Almost all refused com- ment, including for this article. Agreement "will take time," concedes Kemp, "but I have clear con dence in where I am." One thing is sure. Should the day come when Bianca Sforza's face hangs in a museum as a true Leonardo, everyone will stare. j e moment arrived when they inserted a copy of Bianca's portrait into the open book. It t perfectly. For Kemp, this was the clincher. Mystery of a Masterpiece A new NOVA--National Geographic Special airs Wednesday, January 25, on PBS; check local listings. ■ Society Grant Martin Kemp and Pascal Cotte's research in Poland was funded by your National Geographic Society membership.