For a major Leonardo to come out of nowhere is astonishing. Sold at Christies in New York in 1998 at German 19th century, detailed historical research and technical analysis demonstrates conclusively that it is an autograph work of the highest quality by the Italian genius. This book presents the full evidence for the first time. The subject is certainly a Milanese young lady from the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo's patron. Clearly executed by Leonardo's left hand, the description of the profile and details is of indescribable delicacy. The young lady's tender and fragile beauty is evoked with infinite sensitivity, and stands beside any comparable works by Leonardo in painting or drawing. But who is she? By far the most likely candidate is Bianca, Ludovico's illegitimate daughter, who was legally legitimised to allow her to be engaged to Galeazzo Sanseverino, the noble commander of the duke's armies. They were married in 1496, when Bianca was less than 14 years old. Tragically, she died months later, to the great distress of the court. It may well be that the portrait comes from a posthumous volume of poetic tributes. The scientific examination undertaken by Pascal Cotte of Lumeiere Technology in Paris supports the dating and attribution in every respect. We can witness the subtlety of Leonardo's techniques, not least in the underlying layers of the ink and chalk, together with his changes of mind. Characteristically he used the edge of his hand to blend the pigments. A fingerprint was discovered near the top left edge. This has been aligned by fingerprint expert Paul Biro with one in Leonardo's early and unfinished St Jerome. Although it would not be enough in itself to convict someone of murder, the fingerprint evidence is highly supportive. All this adds up to the most exciting discovery of a work of art by Leonardo for over 100 years.
Martin Kemp FBA is Emeritus Professor in the History of Art at Oxford University. He has written, broadcast and curated exhibitions on imagery in art and science from the Renaissance to the present day. Books include, The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (Yale University Press), and The Human Animal in Western Art and Science (Chicago 2007. He has published extensively on Leonardo da Vinci, including the prize-winning Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man (1989 and 2006).He has curated and co-curated a series of exhibitions on Leonardo and other themes, including Spectacular Bodies at the Hayward Gallery in London and Leonardo da Vinci. Experience, Experiment, Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006 and Seduced. Sex and Art from Antiquity to Now, Barbican Art Gallery London, 2007.