Leonardo experts identify portrait lost for 500 years

The Guardian, LONDON

Sun, Oct 06, 2013 - Page 6

Researchers in Italy claim to have unearthed the portrait of a noblewoman by Leonardo da Vinci that has been lost for 500 years and features the same enigmatic smile as his Mona Lisa.

The portrait of Isabella D’Este, which carbon dating suggests was painted at about the start of the 16th century, has been found in a vault in a private collection in Switzerland and has been verified by a leading authority on the renaissance polymath.

“There are no doubts that the portrait is Leonardo’s work,” University of California emeritus professor of art history Carlo Pedrett said.

If acknowledged as genuine — and if experts concur it was painted before the Mona Lisa — the portrait could shake up academic studies of one of the world’s most famous paintings.

The 61cm by 46.5cm portrait, which uses the same pigment in the paint and the same primer used by Leonardo, is the completed version of a sketch he made of D’Este, which, like the Mona Lisa, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

The unnamed family that owns the portrait and asked for it to be analyzed has kept a collection of about 400 paintings in Turgi, Switzerland, since the start of the 20th century, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

In a letter to the owners, Pedretti stated he was convinced Leonardo had painted the portrait’s face, while two of his assistants painted the palm leaf the subject is holding.

Leonardo first met D’Este when he took up residence at her court in Mantua, where she was marquesa, in 1499. A patron of the arts and a leading figure in the Italian renaissance, whose dress sense influenced women in Italy and France, she sat for the artist and later implored him in letters to turn his sketch into a final painting.

Leonardo promised he would complete the commission, at one point suggesting he could work from the sketch without her sitting again. In 1514, it is likely the two met again at the Vatican, but historians have thought the painting was either never completed or lost forever.

One historical clue suggests that Leonardo did complete the work.

In 1517, while in France, he showed a series of paintings to Cardinal Luigi d’Aragona, prompting the cleric’s assistant to later write: “There was a painting in oil depicting a certain Lombardy lady.”