As art history lovers flock to the Louvre in Paris to see the blockbuster show celebrating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, a new painting by his hand may have been discovered at a French chateau.
The work, a portrait of a bald man that has been in the historic house for centuries, could be by the Renaissance master, although the evidence is far from clear.
A 145-year-old letter mentioning a portrait of the philosopher NiccolÃ² Machiavelli by Leonardo was discovered last year in the archives of ChÃ¢teau de ValenÃ§ay in central France. The chateau once belonged to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PÃ©rigord, the French diplomat known better as Talleyrand, who died in 1838 after serving under several French regimes, including Napoleonâ€™s.
The director of the historic house, Sylvie Giroux, told Agence France Presse that â€œit is not impossibleâ€ that Leonardo painted the Italian political theorist, best known for his political treatise, The Prince.
The local archivist, Anne Gerardot, is more cautious. â€œJust because it says so in the archives does not mean itâ€™s true,â€ she told AFP, noting that she thinks the Old Master portrait more closely resembles the French Renaissance essayist Montaigne.
Thereâ€™s also the issue of the paintingâ€™s wooden support, which has a smooth appearance uncharacteristic of Leonardoâ€™s time. It could be the result of restoration work done in the 1890s, or a clue that the painting was made at a later date.
But the painting, featuring a thin, bearded figure in a black coat and white shirt with necktie, does match the description in the letter, which mentions a portrait on wood measuring 22 by 17 inches. In the letter, which is dated 1874, the estate manager who wrote it says: â€œI am having the concierge wrap up and put on the train a box containing a painting (Machiavelli by Leonardo da Vinci).â€
The chateau plans to submit the painting to a battery of tests in the hopes of determining its subject and authorship.
It’s difficult to judge from the photograph, but my own guess is: neither of the above.