The picture to the left is rather small in real life: just a 33 x 23cm (13 x 9in) and in chalk, pen and ink. When it appeared at auction at Christie’s, New York, in 1998, it was catalogued as “German school, early 19th century”. It sold for $19,000 (£11,400). Now it seems that it could be a Leonardo da Vinci and thus worth about £100 million.
According to the Times carbon dating and infra-red analysis of the artist’s technique are consistent with such a conclusion, but the most compelling evidence is that fragment of a fingerprint.
Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, found the print while examining images captured by a multispectral camera The fingerprint is “highly comparable” to one on Leonardo’s St Jerome in the Vatican. Importantly, St Jerome is an early work from a time when Leonardo was not known to have employed assistants, making it likely that it is his fingerprint.
Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of History of Art at the University of Oxford supports these findings. He has rechristened the picture, sold as Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress, as La Bella Principessa after identifying her, “by a process of elimination”, as Bianca Sforza, daughter of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (1452-1508), and his mistress Bernardina de Corradis.
If it is by Leonardo, it would be the only known work by the artist on vellum although Leonardo is known to have asked the French court painter Jean Perréal about the technique of using coloured chalks on vellum in 1494.
Hmmm I daresay the current owner is, let’s say, pleasantly surprised and perhaps even has dollar signs where his pupils should be. Still there is another benefit: Leonardo’s dabs can go on record... you never know when he might go ram raiding....