National Geographic : 2012 Feb
at someone could walk into a gallery and buy a drawing that turns out to be a previously unknown Leonardo masterpiece, worth perhaps $100 million, seems pure urban myth. Discovery of a Leo- nardo is truly rare. At the time of Silverman's purchase, it had been more than years since the last authentication of one of the master's paintings. ere was no record that the creator of the "Mona Lisa" ever made a major work on vellum, no known copies, no preparatory drawings. If this image was an authentic Leonardo, where had it been hiding for years? Silverman emailed a digital image of Bianca to Martin Kemp. Emeritus professor of art history at Oxford University and a renowned Leonardo scholar, Kemp regularly receives images, some- times two a week, from people he calls "Leonardo loonies," con- vinced they have discovered a new work. "My re ex is to say, No!" Kemp told me. But the "uncanny vitality" in the young woman's face made him want a closer look. He ew to Zurich, where Silverman kept the drawing in a vault. At by 9¼ inches, it is roughly the size of a legal pad. "When I saw it," Kemp said, "I experienced a kind of frisson, a feeling that this is not normal." at initial shiver of excitement compelled Kemp to embark on his own investigation. He was aided by high-resolution multispec- tral scans by Pascal Cotte of Lumiere Technology in Paris, allowing Kemp to study the drawing's layers, from rst strokes to later restora- tions. e more Kemp looked with his connoisseur's eye, the more he saw what he considered evidence of Leonardo's hand---how the hair bunched beneath the strings holding it in place, the beautiful modulation of colors, the precise lines. Shaded areas showed distinc- tive le -handed strokes just like Leonardo's. e expression, poised but pensive, the look of someone growing up too fast, conveyed Leo- nardo's maxim that a portrait should reveal "motion of the mind." Kemp also needed proof that the portrait had been made during Leonardo's lifetime (-) and that its historical particulars t the artist's biography. e vellum, probably calfskin, had been carbon-dated, its origin placed somewhere between and . Costume research revealed that the sitter belonged speci cally to the Milanese court of the 1490s, with its fashion for elaborately bound hair. Leonardo lived in Milan during this time, accepting commis- sions for court portraits. Stitch marks on the edge of the portrait suggested that it came from a book, possibly one commemorating a royal marriage. Kemp's detective work led him to a name, Bianca Sforza. An illegit- imate daughter of the Duke of Milan, she was married in to Ga- leazzo Sanseverino, commander of the Milanese troops and a patron of Leonardo's. Bianca was or at the time of the portrait. Tragical- ly, she died a few months later, likely from an ectopic pregnancy, Results from multispectral scans reveal the original colors of the Bianca Sforza portrait, executed in colored chalks and ink on vellum. Its present- day appearance, with restorations, appears on the following pages. Tom O'Neill is a National Geographic sta writer.