The New York Times reports that this painting, The Marriage Portrait of a Young Woman, which was initially believed to be a 19th-century German School portrait is now thought to be a Leonardo da Vinci original. The painting, which sold for $21,850 at a Christie’s auction back in 1998, has already fetched offers in excess of $50 million US dollars (from Russian billionaires, of course).
The work's owner, a Swiss Art Collector, decided to have some testing done on the piece after his friend, a Canadian art collecter, suggested that it might be a da Vinci:
The two collectors took the portrait to Lumiere Technology, a Paris-based company specializing in multispectral digital technology that had already digitized two works by Leonardo: the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and “Lady With an Ermine” at the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland.
“The first time that the owner gave me this drawing he didn’t say a thing; the author was secret,” said Pascal Cotte, Lumiere Technology’s chief technical officer.
Though Mr. Cotte carried out a series of tests on the work for nearly four weeks, he said, it did not take him long to come up with a name. “I went to the owner and said, ‘I have a feeling it’s a drawing by Leonardo,’ and he said, ‘We’re here for just that.’ ”
In June, Lumiere announced that its examination had led to the authentication of the work as a Leonardo.
Of course, skeptics would like to know how the experts at Christie's could make such a big mistake. At the very least, we now know that Christie's was way off base in terms of dating the work. The auction house experts believed the piece to be from 19th century, but independent Carbon-14 dating Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich places the painting's date between 1440 and 1650.
While it is still unclear whether or not the work is a genuine Leonardo (scholarly opinions are mixed), what remains is that they made a rather sizable goof when they failed to pinpoint the date properly. It makes you wonder how many mistakes the experts make! I'm reminded of a scene in one of my favourite films, The Red Violin, where a concert violinist overlooks a priceless instrument when he's told that it's worthless. Too often, we see value in things because others (particularly individuals with cachet) believe are valuable. Prestige suggestion is often far more influential than whether we can genuinely appreciate an object's beauty.
At any rate, if I owned this painting, I would probably try to get rid of it a.s.a.p., before the critics changed their minds again!
Image courtesy of Lumiere Technology, used in accordance with Fair Use guidelines.