For five centuries, it has been one of the art world’s greatest mysteries, with even its very existence in doubt.
But now, almost 500 years after he painted it, a priceless Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece has been unearthed in a Swiss bank vault.
In a story that seemed to come directly from the pages of a Dan Brown novel, the portrait of Italian noblewoman, Isabella d’Este, was discovered as part of a private collection in a Swiss bank.
The Italian owners have decided to keep their identity a secret.
The painting is a canvas and oil, finished rendering of a well-known pencil sketch of the same woman, the wife of the Marquess of Mantua and one of Renaissance Italy’s most influential women
The sketch, which was drawn in 1499, hangs in the Louvre, and is considered a forerunner to his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
Isabella, who appears to share the world-famous subject’s mysterious smile and rounded chin, wanted to be painted by the all the greatest artists of the day, which naturally included da Vinci.
The preliminary sketch was greatly admired by the aristocratic lady’s friends so she asked him to finish the commission.
But art historians had long been divided over whether the finished version of the commission existed.
Da Vinci soon after begun one of his most compelling and large scale projects, The Battle of Anghiari, in Florence town hall. Then in 1503, he began the Mona Lisa.
Now experts believe that the striking portrait is indeed the work of the Italian genius.
Professor Carlo Pedretti of the University of California, Los Angeles, the world’s leading expert in da Vinci told Italy’s Corriere della sera newspaper. ‘There are no doubts that the portrait is the work of Leonardo.
'I can immediately recognise Da Vinci’s handiwork, particularly in the woman’s face.'
Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted during the Renaissance period.
And scientific tests have revealed that the primer used to treat the canvas is the same as that used by da Vinci
Further tests will make clear whether some of the lady’s accessories, including the gold crown, could have been painted by one of da Vinci’s assistants.
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