Thursday, August 05, 2010

La Bella Principessa.


I have been fascinated as of late by the story of this luminous work, La Bella Principessa (also called Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress) – which, depending on who you ask, is either an estimated $150 million dollar masterpiece by the celebrated Leonardo Da Vinci, or a skillful copy by someone long forgotten now worth a mere $21,850.

The debate has been raging fast and furiously like a Californian wildfire, but an official proclamation of authenticity has yet to be issued – at least – I think it has yet to be issued. Quite frankly, there are so many news items and opinions about the work that it makes the head spin rather easily. (For a masterful, high resolution version online to really see the exquisiteness of the work regardless of its creator, click here:

If you’re not familiar at all with the story and the controversy surrounding the work, the has a fine article which can be found here : I also found it slightly synchronistic that in the late 1990’s, it seemed that the going rate for undiscovered masterworks seemed to hover around 20 grand ( Le Bella Principessa was initially purchased for $21,850 roughly around the same time as The Vision of Saint Lucy – now determined to be an original Fra Angelico worth over 5 million – was purchased for about $20,000 by art dealer Richard L. Feigen :

Now, however, controversy surrounding the authenticity of the work reins supreme. This became particularly  self-evident after I read the enlightening article by David Grann for the New Yorker entitled “The Mark of a Masterpiece”. In the article, Grann more or less exposes the controversial Peter Paul Biro, a supposed master authenticator whose method of tracing fingerprints on paintings has been challenged as fraudulent by many in the art world. Just months ago, Biro claimed to have positively identified a newly discovered Leonardo da Vinci, and a few years ago, made headlines when he verified a truck driver’s Jackson Pollock that she’d bought at a junk store for $5 (the story of which was made into a film called Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?)

See how thick this story becomes? Millions of dollars at stake, questionable masterpieces, famous dead artists, scandal, lawsuits, finger pointing, fraud – all that’s needed now is sex and a few Agatha Christie style parlor murders to complete the perfect screenplay.

In the interim, this article on interviews Professor Martin Kemp, a world-renowned Leonardo expert and professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University, has spent more than 40 years studying the DaVinci. Kemp is rather certain that the work is authentic as expects the rest of the experts to fall in line soon. Kemp also published a book claiming that the work was actually an unknown Leonardo, which he labelled La Bella Principessa.

So, inevitably, this lead us back to the lawsuit being filed by lawyers for Jeanne Marchig, who owned the work before the 1998 sale. Legal papers have been filed in a New York federal court accusing Christie's of failing to "exercise due care", failing to use appropriate scientific technology to determine its true identity, and hence selling it for a "fraction" of its true value. However, a Christie's spokesman said: "Christie's strongly disagrees with these claims and believes they are without merit."

However, it’s important to understand that many experts are also unconvinced it is a Leonardo stating that he never produced a work on vellum, and that the finger print evidence was extremely shaky. One has even called it a "screaming 20th century fake".

The quest for the truth continues. . .

1 comment:

Borislav said...