Discovery of a New Selfportrait of Leonardo da Vinci!
In the course of my research for the book "Who is Mona Lisa? In search of her identity" I investigated not only the coat of arms, specific symbols or emblems and colours used by the different Italian dynasties of the 15th and 16th century, but also the hundreds of books of plates in which one can find the wonderful portraits from this epoch. Because over 95% of these portraits are unsigned, undated and give no information about the person depicted, art historians will make mistakes (and have made mistakes) when attributing a portrait to a painter, year or subject.
The new portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, which was painted between 1475 and 1480 and can be found in Washington, The National Gallery of Art, was wrongly attributed to the Italian painter Cariani († 1547), because Cariani used the same kind of background for his portraits. Cariani probably knew this particular painting and was inspired by the great master, although his skill was not comparable to that of Leonardo da Vinci. The latter is in his self-portrait not only dressed like the people of that time (those who could afford it), we also know that he was very interested in the study of drapery in the 70s of the 15th century. So, in this portrait you see in the background not only a look out of the window, you also see a wall upon which a cloth is showing his great interest in the study of drapery. By the way, it probably was customary for the pupils of Andrea del Verrocchio to paint a self-portrait. We also have self-portraits of Pietro Perugino († 1523) and Lorenzo di Credi († 1537).
In the paintings of Figure 2 you can see what Leonardo da Vinci looks like. These portraits were painted by Leonardo da Vinci`s master Andrea del Verrocchio († 1488), co-workers of his master like Botticelli († 1510) and Francesco Botticini († 1498), and his own friends and/or students. By the way we have countless other portraits of Leonardo da Vinci, made by his friends and colleagues, which you find on my website.
The drawing (Figure 3), which is regarded to be a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, is certainly not a portrait of the great master. It depicts a very old man. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have the fortune to reach this age. The drawing in fact depicts Leonardo’s grandfather Antonio da Vinci (1373-1469). Some art historians instead made the ridiculous assumption that Leonardo da Vinci must have aged very quickly. The contemporaries of the great master described his looks very precisely, but they didn’t mention this phenomenon. In the following book „Leonardo - des Meisters Gemälde und Zeichnungen in 360 Abbildungen. Reihe: Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben. 37. Bd. Stuttgart und Berlin 1931“ you find the remark (on page 398) that this portrait was definitely made at the beginning of the 90s of the 15th century. Leonardo was at that time not even 40 years old. The great painter made some further drawings of his father and/or his uncle Francesco (Figure 4, Figure 5, Figure 6, Figure 7 and Figure 8)
However, not only is the similarity of the person in Figure 1 with the other portraits of Leonardo striking, there is further indication that this person is the great master himself: The little white dog, which was either Leonardo’s dog or the dog of his master Andrea del Verrocchio († 1488). A little white dog can also be seen in the painting “Tobias and the angel” (Figure 9a, left picture, and right picture detail), which was made in the school of Andrea del Verrocchio. The dog in this painting was depicted by Leonardo da Vinci according to the art historian David Alan Brown (see his book: Leonardo da Vinci – Origin of a genius. New Haven and London 1998). This little dog can also be seen in the painting “Tobias and the three angels” of a co-worker of Andrea del Verrocchio, Francesco Botticini. The dog can be found on the left side of the Archangel Michael, who is nobody else than Leonardo da Vinci himself (Fig. 9b).
Leonardo was said to have had a big heart for animals. His contemporaries described how he liked to go to the markets and buy little birds in tiny little cages. He then went outside of the cities to open their cages and give them back their freedom. In his household there were always a lot of dogs and cats to be found. There are numerous drawings made by the great master that show them jumping and rolling. Leonardo also avoided to eat meat, at least as an elderly man.
When viewing the countryside through the window of this portrait painting, you can see the beautiful landscape of the Mugello with its hills and mountains. Not far in the distance you can discover the township of Fiesole. That is where the rich Florentine citizens, including one uncle of Leonardo da Vinci, had their summer houses, and where they spent the unbearably hot summer months. When Leonardo visited Florence, he often lived with his uncle. Nearby, on Monte Ceceri, he carried out his famous flight experiments.
Could it be that this new portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is the same portrait mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his famous book “Lives of seventy of the most eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects”, published in 1568, when he speaks about Francesco da Melzo, the "beloved pupil" and heir of Leonardo da Vinci: “… (Francesco da Melzo) a Milanese gentleman, who, in the time of Leonardo, was a child of remarkable beauty, much beloved by him, and is now a handsome and amiable old man, who sets great store by these drawings, and treasures them as relics, together with the portrait of Leonardo of blessed memory.” (in: Giorgio Vasari: Lives of seventy of the most eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, edited and annotated by E.H. and E.W. Blashfield and A.A. Hopkins. Vol. II. London 1897, S. 392)
1: All historical sources are telling us that Leonardo da Vinci painted his portraits, paintings and beautiful portrait drawings with the right hand. The main historical source for this fact is Antonio de' Beatis who was the secretary of the Cardinal Luigi d' Aragona and who paid with his master a visit to Leonardo da Vinci on 10th October 1517. Luckily for us historians he used to write down everything – really everything – in his diary: „On the 10th of October 1517, Monsignor (the Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona) and the rest of us went to see, in one of the outlying parts of Amboise, Messer Leonardo da Vinci the Florentine... the most eminent painter of our time, who showed to his Eminence the Cardinal three pictures; one of a certain Florentine lady (Isabella Gualanda), painted from life, at the instance of the late Giuliano de' Medici; the other of the youthful St. John the Baptist; and the third of the Madonna and the Child in the lap of St. Anne, the most perfect of them all. One cannot indeed expect any more good work from him, as a certain paralysis has crippled his right hand. But he has a pupil, a Milanese, who works well enough. And although Messer Leonardo can no longer paint with the sweetness which was peculiar to him, he can still design and instruct others....“ (in: Ludwig Goldscheider: Leonardo da Vinci. London and New York 1944 (second edition), page 20). However Leonardo da Vinci was better with his left hand than the normal right-handed person. It is very likely that he was a born left-handed. For example, Leonardo sometimes wrote his documents in mirror-writing with his left hand. But he never painted with his left hand! Because as every painter of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance who was taught painting in a workshop of a master, he was forced to draw and paint with the correct hand, the right hand.
2: Do you want to see Leonardo da Vinci as an old man, then have a look at the following figures: Fig. 10 and 10a. Albrecht Dürer jun., who was a great admirer of Leonardo da Vinci and who saw him the last time in 1506, made him immortal as apostle Paul in his famous painting „The four apostles“: Fig. 11. Another self-portrait of the great painter depicting him as an elderly man can be seen in Fig. 12.
More images of Leonardo on his family tree page.
I wrote the following open letter to the National Gallery of Art in Washington on 6. August 2007:
Dear Mr. Hand,
regarding the following two further portraits at the National Gallery of Art:
“A Young Woman and her little Boy” (= Maria de' Medici (1540 - 1557) with her brother Antonio)
“Portrait of a Man with a Dog” I feel compelled to write to you again.
The first painting “A young woman and her little boy” shows the eldest legitimate daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici and his wife Eleonora of Toledo, Maria de’ Medici (1540-1557), and her little brother Antonio (1544-1548). The painting was made around 1557. Please have a look at my family-tree of the Medici in Pictures, which is already used in the Medici Archives and the Medici Project in Florence.
As I mentioned to you before, there is no problem to assign the portraits of the members of the high nobility to the respective members of the dynasties, once you have familiarized yourself with the history of the costume, the dynasties themselves and their emblems and symbols.
Regarding the second painting, “Portrait of a Man with a Dog”, wrongly attributed to Cariani, I have written many e-mails to your Gallery since 2004, but I never received an answer. Dear Mr. Hand, you may not be aware of it, but let me assure you, the National Gallery of Art is in possession of the only known self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci! It is a pity that this painting has disappeared in your archives and does not receive the attention it deserves.
I wonder why that is. Who is responsible for the false attribution of this painting to Cariani? What facts is it based upon? I would like to challenge that person for a discussion on that attribution. I know I am right and I can prove it. I can provide a large number of facts and not just speculations which make it clear that the depicted is the great Leonardo himself. Please note that for a serious discussion on this matter it is essential to be familiar with the history of the costume, the history of the Renaissance and their dynasties, especially the Visconti and Sforza in Milan, the life of Leonardo da Vinci and the emblems and symbols of the high nobility in Italy.
Please, read the following article (on this page) regarding this painting of yours on my website.
Kind regards, Maike Vogt-Luerssen
8. August 2007: I received a first answer by Mr. Hand:
„Dear Maike Vogt-Luerssen,
Thank you for your e-mail. I have forwarded it to our curator of Italian paintings, David Alan Brown, who will, I hope, soon answer you.“
My and Mr. Hand's hope did not come true: There was no response from David Alan Brown at all.
Request for Support
If you agree, that this painting is a self portrait of the great painter and genius Leonardo da Vinci, please send me an email. According to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the painting is in a very bad condition. Let's make an effort to have it recognised as what it really is: the most faithful image of this unique man Leonardo da Vinci. Write to me!