TORONTO – Mona Lisa has something new to smile about.
A portrait of a young woman thought to be created by a 19th century German artist and sold two years ago for about $19,000 is now being attributed by art experts to Leonardo da Vinci and valued at more than $150 million.
The unsigned chalk, ink and pencil drawing, known as “La Bella Principessa,” was matched to Leonardo via a technique more suited to a crime lab than an art studio – a fingerprint and palm print found on the 13 1/2 -inch-by-10-inch work.
Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, said the print of an index or middle finger matched a fingerprint found on Leonardo’s “St. Jerome” in the Vatican.
Technical, stylistic and material composition evidence – including carbon dating – had art experts believing as early as last year that they had found another work by the creator of the “Mona Lisa.”
The discovery of the fingerprint has them convinced the work is by Leonardo.
Biro examined multispectral images of the drawing taken by the Lumiere Technology laboratory in Paris, which used a special digital scanner to show successive layers of the work.
“Leonardo used his hands liberally and frequently as part of his painting technique. His fingerprints are found on many of his works,” Biro said. “I was able to make use of multispectral images to make a little smudge a very readable fingerprint.”
Alessandro Vezzosi, director of a museum dedicated to Leonardo in the artist’s hometown of Vinci, Italy, said Wednesday he was “very happy” to hear about the fingerprint analysis, saying it confirmed his own conclusion that the portrait can be attributed to Leonardo with “reasonable certainty.”
Even before the fingerprint discovery, Vezzosi said several experts agreed with his conclusion, which was based on “historical, artistic, stylistic (and) aesthetic” considerations. Based on its style, the portrait has been dated to 1485 to 1490, placing it at a time when Leonardo was living in Milan.
Canadian-born art collector Peter Silverman bought “La Bella Principessa” – or “The Beautiful Princess” – at the gallery in New York on behalf of an anonymous Swiss collector in 2007 for about $19,000. New York art dealer Kate Ganz had owned it for about nine years after buying it at auction for a similar price. One London art dealer now says it could be worth more than $150 million.
If experts are correct, it will be the first major work by Leonardo to be identified in 100 years. But Ganz still doesn’t believe it is a Leonardo.
“Nothing that I have seen or read in the past two years has changed my mind. I do not believe that this drawing is by Leonardo da Vinci,” she said Wednesday.