Case closed on ‘da Vinci’ art mystery?
A Santa Fe art historian says he has solved an international art mystery by identifying the actual artist whose drawing has been falsely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
La Bella Principessa (The Pretty Princess), a 13- by 9.5-inch ink-and-colored-chalk-on-vellum drawing, depicts a young woman in profile, her reddish-blond hair braided and bound behind her.
After a Canadian art appraiser living in Paris found the unframed drawing in a drawer belonging to a Swiss collector in 2007, an Oxford art historian championed it as the first da Vinci artwork discovered in more than a century, worth $150 million.
Appraisers were skeptical, suspecting a fraud. Some said the drawing likely was produced by one of a group of 19th-century German painters called the Nazarene Brotherhood who emulated the Italian Renaissance masters.
The real-life art mystery, reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, has been widely reported, including by David Grann in the July 12-19 edition of The New Yorker.
Now art historian Fred R. Kline of Santa Fe says he’s narrowed down the artists who could be responsible for Principessa to Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872).
Kline, who ran a gallery on West San Francisco Street until about four years ago, said he determined Schnorr had drawn Principessa by comparing it to his Half-Nude Female in the collection of the State Art Museum in Mannheim, Germany.
The Mannheim drawing, reproduced in at least three books, depicts the same woman who had posed for Principessa, with her hair braided similarly, he said.
Kline said most art experts who have studied Principessa have concluded it is not a da Vinci, mainly because it is on vellum, a type of parchment da Vinci was not known to use.
“Everybody is in this for the carrot at the end of the rainbow,” Kline said. “It’s all a sham, big time, with manipulated science. Everybody knows that Leonardo didn’t do it, and the question has always been, ‘Who really done it?’ “
Kline said he is the first to suggest who actually drew Principessa — although, so far, he’s had no response to his theory. He recently posted a news release on PRNewswire.
A twist of fate led to Kline’s interest the Nazarene Brotherhood. He said he was looking through “a very second-rate ‘antique’ shop in another state” in 1989, when he found a landscape depicting women ironing outside a lodge in the Swiss Alps.
Kline bought the unsigned drawing in a dirty frame for $50, then began researching who might have done it based on stylistic clues suggesting it was Swiss, German or Austrian. He said he eventually determined it was by Anton Koch, an 18th-century German artist who was the godfather of the Nazarene Brotherhood.
The Nazarenes were German Catholics or converts to Roman Catholicism who lived in Rome, wore monkish robes, lived ascetic lives and “were considered eccentrics even among the expatriate community of artists in Rome,” Kline said. Although they did not exactly copy the Renaissance masters, he said, they carried on their traditions in style and subject matter. They were particularly devoted to Raphael, Michelangelo and da Vinci.
One way to prove Schnorr, rather than da Vinci, drew Principessa would be to test its vellum with that of Half-Nude Female to see if they match. But the unidentified owner of Principessa has not allowed such scientific testing except by his associates.
Such testing might be ordered via a lawsuit filed in New York federal court by the artwork’s former owner, who sold Principessa in 1998 for $21,850 via a Christie’s auction, accusing Christie’s of failing to “exercise due care” to determine its true artist, thereby allowing it to be sold for a fraction of its true value.
“The value of the Principessa if accepted as Schnorr, and because it is now very famous and a very beautiful and authentic work of art as well, could possibly soar to a realistic $250,000 at auction,” Kline said. “However, in this case, there would probably be a true believer or two with a billion to spare that could push it to what they would consider a steal at $2 million. This could very likely happen. Anything famous being sold at auction can be expected to exceed realistic expectations. … Somewhere, Herr Schnorr is also smiling.”