La Bella Principessa. Arguments against the Attribution to Leonardo

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The sensational attribution of an anonymous profile drawing of a young girl, called La Bella Principessa, to Leonardo da Vinci, which was reported in the press worldwide, makes an inter-esting case of contemporary connoisseurship. The drawing was executed in the mixed media technique of pen and brown ink, black, red and white chalks (or trois crayons), and body­ colour, on vellum laid on oak panel, 33 × 23.9 cm [Fig. 1].1 Cutting-edge Lumiere Technology (multi-spectral digitaliza-tion), as well as forensic sciences (fingerprint analysis), X-rays and Carbon-14 dating were among scientific methods of au-thentication used, in addition to the more traditional art his-torical approach led by Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Oxford, and recognised expert on Leonardo’s scientific work. The attribution was also publicly articulated, which is admittedly rare, in the book by Martin Kemp and Pas-cal Cotte, founder of Lumiere Technology, The Story of the New Masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci; La Bella Principessa


(London, 2010), as well as in some scholarly articles2 and web material.3 Further information was also reported by the press in numerous interviews and commentaries worldwide. More recently the present owner of the drawing, Peter Silverman, a Canadian art collector based in Paris, published his own ac-count of the rediscovery and long process of authentication in Leonardo’s Lost Princess: One Man’s Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci (New Jersey, 2012).



Nevertheless, despite the extensive publicity surrounding it, the drawing is not unanimously accepted as by Leonardo.


The anonymous drawing first emerged in the Old Master Drawings sale at Christie’s, New York, on 30 January 1998, as lot 402: Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress, property of Jeanne Marchig of Geneva, and was attributed by the cata-loguer to ‘German school, early 19th century’, so at that time it was considered a pastiche. It came from the private collection of Giannino Marchig, artist and art restorer from Florence. On the reverse the wooden panel had two customs stamps: ‘Douane Centrale Exportation (?) Paris’. This stamp seems to have been introduced in 1864, but it is unclear when it ceased to be used in this form. The drawing was sold for $19,000 (hammer price) to the New York art dealer Kate Ganz, an expert in Italian Old Master and modern drawings. She is the author of Heads and Portraits – Drawings from Piero di Cosimo to Jasper Johns (Lon-don and New York, 1993), and the daughter of well-known col-lectors of twentieth-century art. At that time the drawing was still thought to be a pastiche, a compilation of details taken from different works by Leonardo da Vinci, and such was Ganz’s view. She only resold it nine years later, in 2007 (presumably no buyer could be found until then), for the same price and with the same attribution; Ganz made no profit on the sale. No doubt she must have shown it to many experts and art collectors dur-ing her ownership. The final buyer was Peter Silverman, who with the help of scholars undertook to prove Leonardo’s author-ship. Silverman later revealed to Antiques Trade Gazette that he acquired the drawing on behalf of a collector of contemporary art, ‘independently wealthy and interested in charitable causes and animal issues’ (this is confusing: the description seems to fit Jeanne Marchig, who set up an animal charity), looking to set up a ‘non-profit-making foundation for multi-disciplinary Classical and