Giacobbe Giusti, Piero Cavallini: Crocifissione
Giacobbe Giusti, Piero Cavallini: Crocifissione
Giacobbe Giusti: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
by Mike Boehm Los Angeles Times
Here’s a paradox: Today’s art lovers would recoil at the thought of travel disasters, building collapses or volcanic eruptions afflicting their own communities. But over the next three months, visitors to the Getty Museum can enjoy a unique display of bronze statuary that was saved for posterity precisely because such calamities befell its ancient owners.
The show is “Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World,” running Tuesday to Nov. 1 at the Getty Center in Brentwood — an atypical venue for an ancient-art show, which normally would be seen at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.
The two Getty curators who spent seven years organizing “Power and Pathos” say the 46 rare bronzes in the show needed to be seen in the best light and from all angles. The special exhibitions galleries in Brentwood afford space and natural lighting that the Villa lacks.
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Having spent up to 2,300 years buried far below the ground or sunken in ocean beds of the Mediterranean Sea, this is art that deserves a deluxe presentation, given all it has been through.
What’s most special about the exhibition, curators Jens Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin say, is that it’s the first to bring together so many prized and exceedingly rare works of its period and kind.
Gallery and museum reviews: Full coverage
Gallery and museum reviews: Full coverage
For scholars it’s an unprecedented opportunity to eyeball one-fourth of the world’s known Hellenistic bronzes in one place, comparing and contrasting and perhaps leading to new understanding of how these works were created and what they meant to their ancient public.
For museum-goers, “Power and Pathos” is a chance to get a good sense of the complex currents that influenced creativity between the golden age of Greece, which historians call the “classical” period, and the dawn of the Roman Empire. The seeds of today’s conceptions about what art is for were planted in the Hellenistic world, as a burgeoning nonroyal upper class formed history’s first art market and began to commission works reflecting themselves rather than their rulers and their gods.
“All of what we have survived by chance, and we’re lucky to have it. How many more statues are under the sea bed or underground waiting to be pulled up, we don’t know.
— Kenneth Lapatin, curator
The Hellenistic period spans nearly 300 years, from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to Augustus Caesar’s triumph over Cleopatra and Mark Antony in 31 BC. The Egyptian queen was the last descendant of Ptolemy, one of the generals who had divided Alexander’s empire, which sprawled from Greece to what’s now Pakistan.
With a few exceptions, the statues on display were lost for centuries. Some were excavated starting in the 1700s from sites such as Herculaneum in Italy, which perished along with Pompeii in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Many were pulled from coastal waters off Italy, Greece, Croatia, Tunisia and Turkey, where ancient cargo ships had been scuttled by pirates or wrecked by storms. One star attraction, a bronze sculpture of a seated boxer with bandaged hands and a battered, broken-nosed face and cauliflower ears, was placed in a deep pit at the bottom of an ancient wall in Rome for reasons that remain a mystery.
“All of what we have survived by chance, and we’re lucky to have it,” said Lapatin, whose vertical shock of hair makes him the Lyle Lovett of antiquarians. “How many more statues are under the sea bed or underground waiting to be pulled up, we don’t know. They were ubiquitous in antiquity, but they are rare today.”
Bronze was valuable and easily repurposed for myriad practical uses, so statues made of the metal became antiquity’s equivalent of the passenger pigeon — except for about 200 known exceptions. “You also had ideological reasons” for their wholesale destruction, Lapatin said. “Early Christians weren’t interested in preserving nude statues of pagan gods, and this was ready cash.”
That disaster kept a precious few bronzes from destruction “is the utter paradox” that underlies the show, said Daehner, an affable, soft-spoken German. “You could call it the paradox of archaeology in general, but for bronze it’s particularly true and poignant.”
The show is itself a silver lining of sorts. It had its genesis in the 2007 settlement of the Italian government’s grievances over looted ancient artworks the Getty had acquired, in which the museum returned 40 suspect pieces to Italy, including some of its most prized holdings. But with the return of comity and cooperation, Getty curators could now approach the great museums of Italy with ideas for art loans and collaboration on exhibitions. In 2008 the Getty entered a pact for art exchanges with the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.
Looking for intersections between the collections, curators noted that each sported magnificent Hellenistic bronzes — among them the “Getty Bronze,” a famous statue of a young athlete that was netted from the Aegean Sea by Italian fisherman, and the “Herm of Dionysos,” a Getty-owned example of one of the quirkiest forms of ancient art.
From there, they approached dozens of other museums, landing loans from 30 institutions in 12 countries — among them the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, British Museum, the Prado and the Louvre.
“Many are national treasures or highlights of a museum,” Lapatin said. That so many pitched in — often with works never seen before in the United States — shows how strong the exhibition’s allure has been for scholars of ancient art. “It’s a testament to bringing them out of splendid isolation to [the Getty], where they’re talking to each other. No one has ever done this before.”
Today’s international politics kept a few desired sculptures out of reach. “There are pieces in Baghdad and Tehran that would have been very interesting to have in the show,” Daehner said. “In 2008 the world looked very different than it is now,” and getting them momentarily had seemed possible.
The display of the Getty’s two prime Hellenistic bronzes embodies the quest for consonance, comparison and contrast that Daehner and Lapatin were after. Viewers will get a simultaneous glimpse of the life-size “Getty Bronze,” which usually occupies a room of its own at the Villa, alongside similar works from the British Museum and the Museum of Underwater Antiquities in Athens. Together, Daehner said, they reflect the Hellenistic convention of idealizing the human body, yet making it more accessibly natural than would have been the case in the 400s BC and earlier.
Herms were boundary markers with a sculpted head at the top of a narrow pedestal and male genitalia poking out farther down. The genre gets its name from the god Hermes, whose head frequently topped the markers. The Getty’s herm shows a head of the god Dionysos, its hat and beard calling to mind portraits of the English King Henry VIII. To its right stands a near doppelganger fetched from coastal waters of Tunisia.
Were they made by the same sculptor or workshop? If so, why is the coloration so different, and why does the Tunisian herm have subtle, intricate touches — such as a fully detailed head of hair on the back of his scalp — that the Getty version is missing?
The word “pathos” in the show’s title reflects the objects’ lost-and-found history of past tragedy as well as Hellenistic sculptors’ key aesthetic breakthrough — using bronze, which is more pliable than marble, to register in acute detail the often careworn lives of mere mortals after centuries in which the main purpose of statuary was to capture the otherworldly majesty of gods and heroes.
A gallery devoted to depictions of ordinary humans rather than gods or rulers shows how Hellenistic sculptors began to embody common feelings. The face of a large “Portrait Statue of a Boy,” dug from the sands on the island of Crete, wears a look that projects sneering disgust mixed with an aching throb of sadness. The angsty defiance of adolescents apparently predates Holden Caulfield and Kurt Cobain by two millennia.
“Our modern idea of capturing character or personality is something that happens in the Hellenistic age that isn’t there before,” Daehner said. “Expression, emotion and a certain psychological realism get into a portrait.”
The Hellenistic period was the era when Greece had ceased being a great power in the Mediterranean world, yet it triumphed culturally by spreading its styles and ideas far beyond the reaches of the Athenian empire at its height in the 400s BC.
Alexander, the Macedonian king whose father had conquered Greece, carried his sword — and Greek notions about art and philosophy that he’d learned from his teacher, Aristotle — through most of the world known to ancient Europeans.
Lapatin said that one way to understand what was happening in bronze sculpture during the era is to follow the money.
“It’s an economic development,” he said. “In the classical period if you were wealthy you made a donation to the sanctuary” and commissioned a statue of a god. “In Hellenistic times, you could decorate your villa. The wealthy had more options, and a lot was about displaying statues and showing you were wealthy and cultured.” The vast sacked riches of Persia, Alexander’s key conquest, contributed mightily to enlarging this new class of private art consumers, Lapatin said.
The show that brings together so much begins with nothing at all: an empty, broken stone pedestal that, like many others across the landscape from the eastern Mediterranean to central Asia, sports an inscription but no statue.
“It’s signed by Lysippos, the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great,” Lapatin said. Lysippos was credited in ancient times with having created more than 1,500 bronze statues, “none of which survives,” he said, except via copies made by others.
While Hellenistic artists and their public responded to new cultural currents, they did not turn their backs on tradition. A bust of a man, signed by the Greek sculptor Apollonios, is a blatant knockoff of a famous full-length statue of a spear-carrier by Polykleitos, who’d lived 400 years earlier.
“The original is famous, but it’s a good copy, so he signs it,” Lapatin said. “It’s got the cachet of an old master.” As a business move, that seems downright contemporary.
Although it is organized by the two Getty curators, “Power and Pathos” first was seen at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. Its last stop, after the Getty, is the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Giacobbe Giusti: Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
Rare Bronze Sculptures from Hellenistic Period on View at National Gallery of Art, Washington, December 13, 2015–March 20, 2016
Washington, DC—An unprecedented exhibition of some 50 rare bronze sculptures and related works from the Hellenistic period will be on view at the National Gallery of Art from December 13, 2015, through March 20, 2016. Previously at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World showcases bronze sculptures that are remarkably lifelike, often enhanced by copper eyelashes and lips and colored glass or stone eyes. Of the many thousands of bronze statues created in the Hellenistic period, only a small fraction is preserved. This exhibition is the first to gather together so many of the finest surviving bronzes from museums in Europe, North Africa, and the United States.
“We are delighted to present visitors with this rare opportunity to see these dazzling works up close,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “We are grateful to the lenders—museums in Austria, Denmark, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, the United States, and the Vatican—as well as Bank of America for their generous support.”
During the Hellenistic period—generally from the late fourth century BC to the first century AD—the art and culture of Greece spread throughout the Mediterranean and lands once conquered by Alexander the Great. Through the medium of bronze, artists were able to capture the dynamic realism, expression, and detail that characterize the new artistic goals of the era.
“The works from the Power and Pathos exhibition represent a turning point in artistic innovation during one of the most culturally vibrant periods in world history,” said Rena De Sisto, global arts and culture executive, Bank of America. “We’re thrilled to be the National Tour Sponsor and to help bring this important collection to D.C. in hopes to inspire curiosity and wonder.”
Exhibition Organization and Support
The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, in collaboration with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana.
Bank of America is the national sponsor of this touring exhibition.
The exhibition is also made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor. The Marshall B. Coyne Foundation has provided additional support through the Fund for the International Exchange of Art. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Power and Pathos brings together the most significant examples of Hellenistic bronze sculpture to highlight their varying styles, techniques, contexts, functions, and histories. The conquests of Alexander the Great (ruled 336–323 BC) created one of the largest empires in history and ushered in the Hellenistic period, which ended with the rise of the Roman Empire. For some 300 years after Alexander’s death, the medium of bronze drove artistic experimentation and innovation. Bronze—surpassing marble with its tensile strength, reflective surface, and ability to hold the finest detail—was used for dynamic poses, dazzling displays of the nude body, and vivid expressions of age and character.
“Realistic portraiture as we know it today, with an emphasis on individuality and expression, originated in the Hellenistic period,” said exhibition curator Kenneth Lapatin. Jens M. Daehner, co-curator, added, “Along with images of gods, heroes, and athletes, sculptors introduced new subjects and portrayed people at all stages of life, from infancy to old age.” Both Daehner and Lapatin are associate curators in the department of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
A widespread ancient phenomenon, Hellenistic art is found not only throughout the Mediterranean, but also in regions far away, such as Thrace in the Balkans, ancient Colchis (in the Republic of Georgia), and the southern Arabian Peninsula. Through several thematic sections, the exhibition emphasizes the unique role of bronze both as a medium of prestige and artistic innovation and as a material exceptionally suited for reproduction. The exhibition is divided into sections as follows:
Introduction: The Rarity of Bronzes: Large-scale bronze statues have rarely survived from antiquity, as most were melted down so that their valuable metal could be reused. Rows of empty stone pedestals can still be seen at ancient sites. Lysippos of Sikyon (c. 390–305 BC), the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great, created 1,500 works in bronze, according to Pliny the Elder. None survive; their existence is known partly from later copies and statue bases inscribed with the artist’s name, such as the one on view at the beginning of the exhibition. Many bronzes known today have been preserved only because they were accidentally buried or lost at sea, then recovered centuries later by archaeologists, divers, and fishermen.
Alexander and His Successors: Lysippos is credited with creating the image of Alexander the Great that artists have perpetuated through the centuries: a man of vigor, fit and lithe, clean-shaven, with long, windswept hair. The statuette Alexander the Great on Horseback, in bronze with silver and copper inlays, may be a small-scale version of a lost monumental sculpture that Lysippos created to commemorate Alexander’s victory over the Persians in 334 BC. Portraits of Alexander provided the models that his successors would emulate, resulting in the distinctive genre of ruler portraiture that emerged in the Hellenistic period.
Rulers and Citizens/Likeness and Expression: Realistic features and depictions of emotional states are hallmarks of Hellenistic sculpture. Individualized portraits superseded the largely idealized types of earlier periods. Hellenistic portraits emphasize pathos—lived experience—appealing to viewers’ emotions by conveying an individual’s state of mind or experience of life through facial expression or gestures. Citizens and benefactors honored with statues were shown clothed, while rulers were portrayed nude or in armor, sometimes on horseback. Nudity, traditionally reserved for images of athletes, heroes, and gods, became an artistic attribute of Hellenistic rulers or military leaders.
Bodies Real and Ideal: Hellenistic sculptors continued to create idealized figures, but with a new interest in realistic detail and movement, as seen in the Boy Runner, a statue of a boy athlete shown only at the National Gallery of Art. Many artists took inspiration from Lysippos, often considered the most important artist of the Hellenistic period. He specialized in athletic figures in their prime, emphasizing their muscles and rendering their hair disheveled from sweat and exercise. Lysippos also introduced new, elongated proportions and smaller heads, making his figures appear taller and more graceful than those of the Classical period.
Apoxyomenos and the Art of Replication: The process of casting bronze statues in reusable molds encouraged the production of multiple copies of the same statue. The image of an athlete known as an Apoxyomenos (“scraper”) appears in two bronze versions: a full-length statue excavated at Ephesos in present-day Turkey (on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria) and a bronze head known since the 16th century (now in Fort Worth, Texas), which once formed part of a comparable statue. Athletes competed nude, their bodies coated in oil; after exercising, they scraped themselves clean with a strigil, a curved implement that removed the oil and accumulated dust and grime.
Images of the Divine: The expressive capabilities of bronze and the dynamic styles of Hellenistic sculpture were adapted to representations of divine beings. Their images became less ideal and more realistic or “human.” The statuette Weary Herakles, for example, shows the hero fatigued rather than triumphant after completing the labors that earned him immortality. The love-god Eros, formerly shown as an elegant adolescent, is transformed into a pudgy baby, inspiring Roman images of the god Cupid and putti of the Italian Renaissance. In the Hellenistic era, deities became more accessible, now thought of as living beings with changing physical and emotional states.
Styles of the Past/Roman Collectors and Greek Art: A high regard for history characterizes the Hellenistic period. Artists created statues and statuettes in styles from both the recent and distant past. Statues of Apollo on view echo the stiff frontal figures of youths known as kouroi that were dedicated in Greek sanctuaries and cemeteries throughout the sixth century BC. In contrast, a bust of the Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) copies a work by Polykleitos, one of the most famous classical sculptors of the fifth century BC. Most of the sculptures in this section adorned the villas and gardens of prominent Romans who eagerly collected Greek works of art, including the famouse statuette known as the Dancing Faun (Pan), found in the atrium of the House of the Faun in Pompeii, another work shown only in Washington.
From the Hellenistic to the Augustan Era: The Augustan era saw a renewed interest in the idealized styles of Classical Greece. Augustus, the first Roman emperor (ruled 27 BC–AD 14), favored the Classical style for much of his official art to associate his reign with the golden age of fifth-century Athens under Pericles. The sculpture of a boy wearing a himation, a large rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist, and the nude statue of a youth known as the Idolino (“little idol”), exemplify this trend.
Film and Audio Tour
A film produced by the Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition and made possible by the HRH Foundation provides an overview of art of the Hellenistic period. Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, the film includes new footage of the ancient sites of Delphi, Corinth, and Olympia, which once were crowded with bronze statues.
For the first time, the Gallery is offering a free audio tour that visitors can download to their mobile devices. Narrated by Earl A. Powell III, the tour includes commentary from exhibition curators Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, and bronze specialist Carol C. Mattusch of George Mason University.
Curators and Catalog
The exhibition curators are Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, both associate curators in the department of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Susan M. Arensberg, head of the department of exhibition programs, is the coordinating curator for the National Gallery of Art.
Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the fully illustrated scholarly catalog is the first comprehensive volume on Hellenistic bronze statuary. It includes groundbreaking archaeological, art-historical, and scientific essays offering new approaches to understanding ancient production of these remarkable works of art. The 368-page hardcover catalog is currently available. To order, please visit http://shop.nga.gov/; call (800) 697-9350 or (202) 842-6002; fax (202) 789-3047; or e-mail email@example.com.
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden are at all times free to the public. They are located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, and are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Gallery is closed on December 25 and January 1. With the exception of the atrium and library, the galleries in the East Building will remain closed until late fall 2016 for Master Facilities Plan and renovations. For information call (202) 737-4215 or visit the Gallery’s Web site at www.nga.gov. Follow the Gallery on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NationalGalleryofArt, Twitter at www.twitter.com/ngadc, and Instagram at http://instagram.com/ngadc.
Visitors will be asked to present all carried items for inspection upon entering. Checkrooms are free of charge and located at each entrance. Luggage and other oversized bags must be presented at the 4th Street entrances to the East or West Building to permit x-ray screening and must be deposited in the checkrooms at those entrances. For the safety of visitors and the works of art, nothing may be carried into the Gallery on a visitor’s back. Any bag or other items that cannot be carried reasonably and safely in some other manner must be left in the checkrooms. Items larger than 17 by 26 inches cannot be accepted by the Gallery or its checkrooms.
Giacobbe Giusti, Isleworth Mona Lisa
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is a painting of the same subject as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Though insufficiently examined, the painting is claimed by some to be partly an original work of Leonardo dating from the early 16th century.
Shortly before World War I, English art collector Hugh Blaker discovered the painting in the home of a Somerset nobleman in whose family it had been for nearly 100 years. This discovery led to the conjecture that Leonardo painted two portraits of Lisa del Giocondo: the famous one in The Louvre and the one discovered by Blaker, who bought the painting and took it to his studio in Isleworth, London, from which it takes its name.
According to Leonardo’s early biographer Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo had started to paint Mona Lisa in 1503, but “left it unfinished”. However, a fully finished painting of a “certain Florentine lady” surfaced again in 1517, shortly before Leonardo’s death and in his private possession. The latter painting almost certainly is the same that now hangs in the Louvre. Based on this contradiction, supporters of the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa[who?] claim it is the unfinished Mona Lisa, made at least partially by Leonardo, and the Louvre Mona Lisa a later version of it, made by Leonardo for his own use.
Also, according to Henry F. Pulitzer in his book Where is the Mona Lisa? (1960), Gian Paolo Lomazzo, an art historian, refers in his Trattato dell’arte della Pittura Scultura ed Architettura (1584), to “della Gioconda, e di Mona Lisa (the Gioconda, and the Mona Lisa)”. La Gioconda is sometimes used as an alternative title of the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre; the reference implies that these were, in fact, two separate paintings. Pulitzer reproduces the critical page from Lomazzo’s tract in his own book.
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is wider than the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, having columns on either side which also appear in some other versions. The Louvre painting merely has the projecting bases of columns on either side, suggesting that the picture was originally framed by columns but was trimmed. However, experts who examined the Mona Lisa in 2004–2005 stated that the original painting had not been trimmed.
The figure of the Isleworth Mona Lisa closely resembles that of the Mona Lisa, being identically composed and lit. However, the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa appears younger, leading to speculation that it is an earlier version by the artist. According to Pulitzer, multiple art experts agreed that the neck of the Isleworth Mona Lisa is inferior to the necks of other Leonardo subjects. Furthermore, the background in the Isleworth painting is considerably less detailed than the background in the Louvre painting. For these reasons, several people Pulitzer consulted believed that the hands and face of the portrait were done by Leonardo, but the rest may have been finished by another or others.
Raphael’s drawing, based on the Mona Lisa
The authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa is widely disputed in the art community. Sceptics argue that as Henry F. Pulitzer himself owned the painting in question, a conflict of interest is present. His Where is the Mona Lisa? was published by the Pulitzer Press, a publisher he owned. Pulitzer notes in the book’s introduction that he made a number of sacrifices in order to acquire the painting, including the selling of “a house with all its contents”.
Pulitzer argues in his book that Leonardo’s contemporary Raphael made a sketch of this painting, probably from memory, after seeing it in Leonardo’s studio in 1504 (the sketch is reproduced in Pulitzer’s book; the book says that this sketch is at the Louvre). The Raphael sketch includes the two Greek columns that are found not in the Louvre’s Mona Lisa, but are found in the painting bought by Blaker. Pulitzer presents a few pages of art expert testimonials in his book; some of these experts seemed to believe that Leonardo was the painter, others felt the artist was somebody who worked in Leonardo’s studio, and still others suggested that other artists may have done it. Supporters of the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa include art collector John Eyre, who argued that the bust, face, and hands are autographed.
Pulitzer also presents laboratory evidence (light to dark ratios across the canvas, X-rays, etc.) that his painting is a Leonardo. However, specific detail on the manner in which these studies were carried out, and by whom, is not provided. He writes: “I have no intention of cluttering up this book with too many technicalities and wish to make this chapter brief”. No independent reports on the painting are cited in his text; he uses the pronoun “we” to refer to the team that conducted the research. As his own Pulitzer Press then published these results, there is a lack of outside corroboration for his claims. A documentary aired by PBS gives the names of the persons doing the scientific studies.
Hidden in a Swiss bank vault for 40 years, this version of the Mona Lisa was unveiled to the public on 27 September 2012, but Professor Martin Kemp of Oxford University immediately raised doubts about the painting’s status.
In October 2013, Jean Pierre Isbouts published a book titled The Mona Lisa Myth examining the history and events behind the Louvre and Isleworth paintings. A companion film was released in March 2014. In July 2014, “The Mona Lisa Mystery” premiered on the PBS television station’s series, Secrets of the Dead. This documentary investigated, at length, the authenticity of the Isleworth painting.
Giacobbe Giusti, Leonardo da Vinci
Portrait of a Young Fiancée
Portrait of a Young Fiancée
|Artist||controversially attributed to Leonardo da Vinci|
|Type||Trois crayons (black, red and white chalk), heightened with pen and ink on vellum, laid on oak panel|
|Subject||Bianca Sforza[note 2]|
|Dimensions||33 cm × 23.9 cm (13 in × 9.4 in)|
Portrait of a Young Fiancée, also called La Bella Principessa (English: “The Beautiful Princess”), is a portrait in coloured chalks and ink, on vellum, of a young lady in fashionable costume and hairstyle of a Milanese of the 1490s. Sold at auction in 1998 as an early 19th-century German work, some experts have since attributed it to Leonardo da Vinci. In 2010 one of those experts, Martin Kemp, made it the subject of his book La Bella Principessa. The Profile Portrait of a Milanese Woman – The Story of the New Masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. Evidence discovered in 2011 accounting for its provenance has strengthened the case for it being by Leonardo.
The attribution to Leonardo da Vinci has been disputed. Most of those who disagree with the attribution to Leonardo believe the portrait is by an early 19th-century German artist imitating the style of the Italian Renaissance, although recent radiocarbon dating tests show a much earlier date for the vellum. The current owner purchased the portrait in 2007.
The portrait is a mixed media drawing in pen and brown ink and bodycolour, over red, black and white chalk, on vellum, 33 by 23.9 centimetres (10 by 9 in) which has been laid down on an oak board. There are three stitch holes in the left-hand margin of the vellum, indicating that the leaf was once in a bound volume. It represents a girl in her early teens, depicted in profile, the usual way in which Italian artists of the 15th century created enduring portraits. The girl’s dress and hairstyle indicate that she was a member of the court of Milan, during the 1490s. If it is a Renaissance work, it would have been executed in the 1490s.
If the drawing is originally a Leonardo illustration for the present-day Warsaw copy of the Sforziad, its history is the same as that of the book until the drawing was cut out from the volume. The book is known to have been rebound at the turn of the 18 and 19th century.
The modern provenance of the drawing is known only from 1955 and is documented only from 1998. According to a lawsuit brought by Jeanne Marchig against Christie’s after the drawing’s re-attribution to Leonardo, the drawing belonged to her husband Giannino Marchig, an art restorer, when they married in 1955. Jeanne Marchig became the owner of the drawing in 1983, following Mr Marchig’s death.
The work was included in a sale at Christie’s in New York on January 1, 1998, catalogued as Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress, and described as “German School, early 19th Century”. The seller was Jeanne Marchig. It was sold to a New York art dealer for $21,850 (including buyer’s premium). who sold it on for a similar amount in 2007.
Lumière Technology in Paris performed a multi-spectral digital scan of the work, and in 2009 the spectral images were analysed by Peter Paul Biro, a forensic art examiner who discovered a fingerprint which he said was “highly comparable” to a fingerprint on Leonardo’s unfinished St. Jerome in the Wilderness.
The drawing was shown in an exhibition called And there was Light in Eriksberg, Gothenburg in Sweden, and was estimated by various newspaper reports to be worth more than $160 million.
Reflecting the subject of an Italian woman of high nobility, Kemp named the portrait La Bella Principessa, although Sforza ladies were not princesses.
The drawing is currently being shown at Urbino, Salone del Trono Palazzo Ducale from December 6, 2014 through January 18, 2015 and will be shown in Milan from April 23, 2015, through October 31, 2015. The showings are being sponsored by the publisher Scripta Maneant, Municipality of Urbino and the Superintendence for the Historical Patrimony, Artistic and Etnantropological Heritage of Marche.
Attribution to Leonardo
A portrait by Alessandro Araldi showing a similar hairstyle
Detail of the upper left corner, revealing a fingerprint which has been suggested as being similar to one of Leonardo’s.
A page of La Sforziada from the National Library of Poland (Biblioteka Narodowa) in Warsaw
The first study of the drawing was published by Cristina Geddo. Geddo attributes this work to Leonardo based not only on stylistic considerations, extremely high quality and left-handed hatching, but also on the evidence of the combination of black, white and red chalks (the trois crayons technique). Leonardo was the first artist in Italy to use pastels, a drawing technique he had learned from the French artist Jean Perréal whom he met in Milan at the end of the fifteenth century. Leonardo acknowledges his debt to Perréal in the Codex Atlanticus. Geddo also points out that the “coazzone” of the sitter’s hairstyle was fashionable during the same period.
A number of Leonardo experts and art historians have concurred with the attribution to Leonardo, including:
Martin Kemp, Emeritus Research Professor in the History of Art at the University of Oxford
Carlo Pedretti, professor emeritus of art history and Armand Hammer Chair in Leonardo Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles
Nicholas Turner, former curator at the British Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum
Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci in Vinci, Italy 
Cristina Geddo, an expert on Milanese Leonardesques and Giampietrino,
Justin Kirkus, Boston University specialist in Italian Renaissance
Mina Gregori, professor emerita at the University of Florence.
Edward Wright, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of South Florida, specialist in Italian Renaissance iconography
In 2010, after a two-year study of the picture, Kemp published his findings and conclusions in a book, La Bella Principessa. The Profile Portrait of a Milanese Woman. Kemp describes the work as “a portrait of a young lady on the cusp of maturity [which] shows her with the fashionable costume and hairstyle of a Milanese court lady in the 1490s”. By process of elimination involving the inner group of young Sforza women, Kemp concluded that she is probably Bianca Sforza, the illegitimate (but later legitimized) daughter of Ludovico Sforza (“Il Moro”), duke of Milan. In 1496, when Bianca was no more than 13, she was married to Galeazzo Sanseverino, captain of the duke’s Milanese forces. Galeazzo was a patron of Leonardo. Bianca was dead within months of her marriage, having suffered from a stomach complaint (possibly an ectopic pregnancy). Kemp pointed out that Milanese ladies were often the dedicatees of volumes of poetry on vellum, and that such a portrait of a “beloved lady” would have made a suitable title page or main illustration for a set of verses produced on the occasion of her marriage or death.
The physical and scientific evidence from multispectral analysis and study of the painting, as described by Kemp, may be summarized as follows:
The technique of the portrait is black, red and white chalks (trois crayons, a French medium), with pen and ink.
The drawing and hatching was carried out entirely by a left-handed artist, as Leonardo is known to have been.
There are significant pentimenti throughout.
The portrait is characterized by particularly subtle details, such as the relief of the ear hinted at below the hair, and the amber of the sitter’s iris.
There are strong stylistic parallels with the Windsor silverpoint drawing of A Woman in Profile, which, like other head studies by Leonardo, features comparable delicate pentimenti to the profile.
The members of the Sforza family were always portrayed in profile, whereas Ludovico’s mistresses were not.
The proportions of the head and face reflect the rules that Leonardo articulated in his notebooks.
The interlace or knotwork ornament in the costume and caul corresponds to patterns that Leonardo explored in other works and in the logo designs for his Academy.
The portrait was executed on vellum—unknown in the surviving work of Leonardo—though we know from his writings that he was interested in the French technique of dry colouring on parchment (vellum). He specifically noted that he should ask the French artist, Jean Perréal, who was in Milan in 1494 and perhaps on other occasions, about the method of colouring in dry chalks.
The format of the vellum support is that of a √2 rectangle, a format used for several of his portraits.
The vellum sheet was cut from a codex, probably a volume of poetry of the kind presented to mark major events in the Sforza women’s lives.
The vellum bears a fingerprint near the upper left edge, which features a distinctive “island” ridge and closely matches a fingerprint in the unfinished St Jerome by Leonardo. It also includes a palmprint in the chalk pigment on the neck of the sitter, which is characteristic of Leonardo’s technique.
The green of the sitter’s costume was obtained with a simple diffusion of black chalk applied on top of the yellowish tone of the vellum support.
The nuances of the flesh tints were also achieved by exploiting the tone of the vellum and allowing it to show through the transparent media.
There are noteworthy similarities between this work and the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, including the handling of the eyes, the modelling of flesh tones using the palm of the hand, the intricacy of the patterns of the knotwork ornament and the treatment of the contours.
The now somewhat pale original hatching in pen and ink was retouched in ink in a later restoration, which is far less fluid, precise and rhythmic.
There have been some re-touchings over the years, most extensively in the costume and headdress, but the restoration has not affected the expression and physiognomy of the face to a significant degree, and has not seriously affected the overall impact of the portrait.
Warsaw edition of the Sforziada
In 2011, Kemp and Pascal Cotte reported that there was evidence that the drawing had once been part of a copy in the National Library of Poland in Warsaw of the Sforziada. This is a printed book with hand-illuminated additions containing a long propagandistic poem in praise of Ludovico Sforza, the ruler of Milan and patron of Leonardo da Vinci, and recounting the career of Ludovico Sforza’s father Francesco and his family. The Warsaw copy, printed on vellum with added illumination, was given to Galeazzo Sanseverino, a military commander under Ludovico Sforza, on his marriage to Bianca Sforza in 1496. Kemp and Cotte identified a sheet in this volume from which they believe the drawing was cut. The cut edge of the sheet itself is concealed by the binding, but Kemp and Cotte say that, although “the dimensions and precise locations of the holes in the portrait cannot be obtained with precision”, the three holes on the left-hand side of the drawing can be aligned with three of the five stitch holes in the sheets in the book.
The association with the Sforziada suggests that the drawing is a portrait of Bianca Sforza, who was the daughter of Ludovico Sforza and his mistress Bernardina de Corradis. At the time of the portrait she was around thirteen years old. Leonardo painted three other portraits associated with the family or court of Ludovico Sforza.
Disagreement with attribution to Leonardo
The attribution to Leonardo has been challenged by a number of scholars; however, much of the criticism predates the suggestion of its origin in the copy of the Sforziada now in Warsaw. Many of the theories of alternative authorship which have been put forward by sceptics, as well as the identification provided by Christie’s auction house, are incompatible with the picture originating from this source.
Among the reasons for doubting its authorship are the lack of provenance prior to the 20th century – unusual given Leonardo’s renown dating from his own lifetime, as well as the fame of the purported subject’s family – and the fact that it was on vellum. Leonardo did not use vellum for any of his 4,000 surviving drawings, and old sheets of it are easily acquired by forgers. Leonardo scholar Pietro C. Marani discounts the significance of the drawing being made by a left-handed artist, noting that imitators of Leonardo’s work have emulated this characteristic in the past. Marani is also troubled by use of vellum, “monotonous” detail, use of colored pigments in specific areas, firmness of touch and lack of craquelure. A museum director who wished to remain anonymous believes the drawing is “a screaming 20th-century fake”, and finds the damages and repair to the drawing suspicious. The work was not requested for inclusion in the 2011–12 exhibition at the National Gallery in London, which specifically covered Leonardo’s period in Milan; Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, said simply “We have not asked to borrow it.”
Drawing of a woman by Leonardo. A stylistic similarity has been noted between this drawing and the Young Fiancée.
Drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld which has been suggested as depicting the same female model
Klaus Albrecht Schröder, director of the Albertina, Vienna, said “No one is convinced it is a Leonardo,” and David Ekserdjian, a scholar of 16th-century Italian drawings, wrote that he suspects the work is a “counterfeit”. Neither Carmen Bambach of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the primary scholars of Leonardo’s drawings, nor Everett Fahy, her colleague at the Metropolitan, accepts the attribution to Leonardo.
Several forensic experts on fingerprints have discounted Biro’s conclusions, finding the partial fingerprint taken from the drawing too poorly detailed to offer conclusive evidence. Biro’s description of the print as being “highly comparable” to a known fingerprint of Leonardo’s has similarly been discounted by fingerprint examiners as being too vague an assessment to establish authorship. When asked if he may have been mistaken to suggest that the fingerprint was Leonardo’s, Biro answered “It’s possible. Yes.”
Noting the lack of mention of dissenting opinion in Kemp’s publication, Richard Dorment wrote in the Telegraph: “Although purporting to be a work of scholarship, his book has none of the balanced analysis you would expect from such an acclaimed historian. For La Bella Principessa, as he called the girl in the study, is not art history – it is advocacy.”
Fred R. Kline, an independent art historian known for discoveries of lost art by the Nazarene Brotherhood, a group of German painters working in Rome during the early 19th century who revived the styles and subjects of the Italian Renaissance, proposed one of the Nazarenes, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794–1872), as the creator of the drawing. Kline suggests that a drawing on vellum by Schnorr, Half-nude Female, in the collection of the Kunsthalle Mannheim in Germany, as well as two other drawings on vellum by the same artist, may be related. Kline suggests that La Bella Principessa depicts the same model who appears in the Mannheim drawing, but an idealized version of her in the manner of a Renaissance engagement portrait.
Comparative material-testing of the vellum supports of the Mannheim Schnorr and “La Bella Principessa” were anticipated to occur in the New York federal court lawsuit Marchig v. Christie’s, brought in May 2010 by the original owner of “La Bella Principessa”, who accused Christie’s of breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation and other damages. However, the court dismissed the suit on the ground that the claims were brought years too late, and thus the merits of the suit were never addressed. The district court decision was upheld on appeal.
Disagreements with the attribution to Leonardo were made before the discovery of the missing page in the Warsaw Sforziada book. No alternative attribution has been accepted by Kemp or his research group. No comparative scientific analysis has been made of the vellum supports in question: the Warsaw Sforziada book, the Mannheim Schnorr (an alternate attribution), and “La Bella Principessa”. Independent analysis of the vellum could possibly provide the conclusive evidence that may support or disqualify Leonardo’s or Schnorr’s authorship.