Only last month, this column talked about 67 drawings that a pair of Van Gogh scholars insisted was genuine and that the Van Gogh Museum pooh-poohed as fakes. (This writer came down on the museum’s side). The stakes were big given that a single drawing sold at Sotheby’s this year for nearly $3 million. You do the math. Now, an auction house in Paris claims a discovery of a drawing of St. Sebastian tied to a tree by Leonardo da Vinci and valued at $15.8 million. But this time, it looks like the discovery is a winner. Vouching for its authenticity is the Metropolitan Museum of #Art’s well-regarded drawing and prints curator Carmen C.
An obvious clue frequently escapes notice
You don’t need a big gun to tell you this drawing is the real deal. A big tip-off is readily visible in the background – the suggestion of a rugged terrain of jutting rocks. Similar alpine scenery lies behind his famous art, -- “Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper,” and “The Virgin of the Rocks.” Mountains rising from a winding river are practically his insignia. Cliffs and crags describe the #Artist’s hometown of Vinci. He is said to have climbed every rocky path there. The first sketch he ever made marks out this setting. Not all Old Masters cared about landscapes the way Da Vinci did. Botticelli certainly didn’t, having said that, if you throw a sponge soaked with different colors at a wall, the stain that remains would easily imitate natural scenery.
(Ouch). It goes without saying that the Tuscany hills of Da Vinci’s childhood were no stains on the wall to him. They were his field of dreams.
Call this a Rorschach test
While fellow art critic Jonathan Jones of the Guardian acknowledges that Da Vinci favored mountains in his work, as far as he’s concerned, the “massive clues” for authentication are the ink blots – the pooling of ink on the figure’s raised arm and his navel. As well, he thinks the re-drawings of the figure with the legs in alternative positions are another giveaway. Agreed. Da Vinci did that a lot.
Seldom taken into account in verifying Da Vinci’s art can also serve – his writing, the things he jotted down in the notebook that he carried around on his belt -- 5,000 pages worth by the time he died at age 67, which represented his observations. Did you know that the depression between the lower lip of the mouth is half way between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin? Or that when we walk, our heads go ahead of our feet? He even came up with a recipe for perfume. As for landscapes, he said that because nature is so various, artists should record the differences. On his list are rocks, which are not like any of those in his other work.