The portrait of a young woman in Renaissance dress didn't arouse much excitement when it came up for auction at Christie's in 1998. The catalog listed it simply as "German, early 19th century." It was sold to a New York art dealer for a mere $21,850.00.
In 2007 Peter Silverman, a Canadian collector, saw the portrait in a New York gallery. He began to wonder if it was a lost work of Leonardo da Vinci. It seemed unlikely---the portait was in chalk and ink on vellum. Leonardo was not known to work in that medium.
Silverman bought it anyway, and sent a digital image to Martin Kemp, an art historian at Oxford University. "When I saw it," Kemp said, "I experienced a kind of frisson, a feeling that this is not normal."
What followed was a remarkable journey that involved the cutting edge science of forensics. The portrait, now thought to be of Bianca Sforza, an illegitimate daughter of Leonardo's patron, the Duke of Milan, contained a single fingerprint. Did it belong to Leonardo? What connection did the drawing have with a Renaissance tome in an archive in Poland? For more about this exciting find and the search for more lost Leonardo works, read the National Geographic article, "Lady With a Secret".
The Library has the NOVA television program "Mystery of A Masterpiece" which traces the steps taken to verifiy whether the chalk portrait is a true work of Leonardo.
Here are some recent books about lost masterpieces and famous art thefts:
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harrar
The search for a lost artwork by the Renaissance artist Caravaggio. This quest is a synthesis of history and detective story.
Vanished Smile: the Mysterious Theft of the "Mona Lisa" by R.A. Scotti
Part love story, part mystery, "Vanished Smile" reopens the case of the most audacious and perplexing art theft ever committed--the theft of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" from the Paris Louvre on August 21, 1911.
The Amber Room: the Fate of the World's Greatest Lost Treasure by Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
The priceless room which once belonged to Catherine the Great was looted by Nazis during WWII and has been missing ever since.
Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners by Sandy Naime
This book provides a description of the events surrounding the theft of two important paintings by J.W.M. Turner in 1992, and the subsequent pursuit, location and negotiation for their return.
The Gardner Heist: the True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser
One museum, two thieves, and the Boston underworld--the story behind the lost Gardner masterpieces worth $500 million and the art detective who swore to get them back.
Museum of the Missing: a History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt
A chronicle of famous art thefts
Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece by Noah Caharney
Presents a history of the world's most pilfered masterpiece--Jan van Eyck's "Ghent Alterpiece," treasured for its central panel, "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb"--which has been looted in three wars, burned, forged, smuggled, hunted by the Nazis, and stolen thirteen times.
For more about missing masterpieces, check the subject heading Art Thefts in the Springfield-Greene County Library catalog.
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