“New” Leonardo da Vinci seized in Switzerland

A portrait of Isabella d'Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano
A portrait of Isabella d’Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano

A joint Swiss and Italian investigation has resulted in a seizure of this portrait, which may be a work by Leonardo da Vinci. Whether the work is, in fact, a recently surfaced work by the Renaissance master is very much in doubt. Some have tried to attribute the work to him the Telegraph reports:

Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted between 1460 and 1650, and tests have shown that the primer used to treat the canvas corresponds to that employed by the Renaissance genius.

Carlo Pedretti, a professor emeritus of art history and an expert in Leonardo studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the tests showed there were “no doubts” that the portrait was the work of Leonardo.

However Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the artist, has expressed doubts about whether the painting, which measures 24in by 18in, is the work of Leonardo.

Here is an authentic early sketch of the portrait created by Leonardo:

A chalk study by Leonardo da Vinci, in the collection of the Louvre
A chalk study by Leonardo da Vinci, in the collection of the Louvre

It seems the owner may have been attempting to take the work to Switzerland in order to avoid Italian export restrictions, or to avoid paying taxes. Nina Neuhaus summarizes the reporting of the joint investigation:

The Italian authorities have been searching for the painting since August 2013, when they were informed that it had been illegally exported from Pesaro, Italy, to Lugano, Switzerland. Once in Lugano, the portrait was being offered to a prospective buyer for EUR 95 million by a lawyer on behalf of an Italian family. The Italian authorities filed a first request for international legal assistance in criminal matters to the Swiss authorities; however, when the Swiss police opened the vault, where the painting was believed to be stored, it was empty.

By August 2014, the Italian authorities had gathered further clues as to the whereabouts of the portrait. Again, it was believed that a lawyer was trying to sell the painting, this time for EUR 120 million. The Italian authorities filed a second request for international legal assistance in criminal matters and this time, the Swiss police successfully seized the painting (see video of seizure here). The public prosecutor from Pesaro believes that this was the work of an international art smuggling organisation.

The case should serve as a reminder that the tax man nearly always prevails in the end.

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