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Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) was a painting by Leonardo that was thought to be long gone. However, in 2005, art historian Robert Simon took the work, believed to be a copy, to be restored by Dianne Dwyer Modestini who, throughout several years of restoration, noticed many similarities to Leonardo’s work. From the eyes and nose to the curls of the hair, there were too many similarities to other surviving works to be ignored. Since it was believed to be a copy, the painting was sold at auction in the mid-1900s for a mere 45 pounds. Today, many experts place the value at a minimum of 200 million US dollars, and since it has been declared a work by Leonardo, that brings the total of paintings by the Renaissance man up to 15.
Trying to authenticate a centuries-old piece of art is never going to be an easy task, and oftentimes what one expert believes to be true another one will disagree with. Case in point — La Bella Principessa (The Beautiful Princess), which after a lot of research by Martin Kemp, world-renowned expert on Leonardo, and Pascal Cotte, was deemed to be by the Renaissance great. Depicting Bianca Sforza in profile, who was mostly likely a young teenager at the time, this artwork is a drawing of colored chalk and ink. And while not every expert agrees with Kemp, there are many who do believe it.
The Benois Madonna, also known as Madonna and Child with Flowers or Madonna with The Flower, is displayed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This work was discovered and attributed (for centuries it was considered lost) to Leonardo in the early 20th century. The painting is a charming piece that depicts the Madonna with baby Jesus on her lap, looking inquisitively at the little flowers in his mother’s hands — the Madonna and Child theme was a favorite of Leonardo’s.
What often makes Leonardo’s works so rare is not only that are there few extant works, but also that they are rarely loaned out by the various institutions who own them, allowing only a small percentage of people the opportunity to view them in real life. One such work is the drawing titled Head of a Young Woman, believed to be from 1485, which was featured in an exhibit in Boston earlier in 2015. A lovely study, the work was described by art historian Kenneth Clark as the ‘most beautiful…in the world.’
Leonardo da Vinci was known for his notebooks filled with sketches, drawings, ideas, texts and so on. The Codex on the Flight of Birds is a rare treat that is rarely on display. It is kept out of display in order to protect it and allow it be around for future generations. What makes the work even more special is that in 2009, researches discovered what they believe to be a self-portrait of a younger Leonardo hidden among some of the handwriting.
There is another portrait believed to be the self-portrait of Leonardo as an older man. Rarely on view due to its fragility, this red chalk drawing is a beautiful work surrounded by mystery. Indeed, not a lot is known about the work, but one thing that is certain is that it was hidden from Hitler during World War II, as people at the time believed the work had magical powers. While many assume this is a self-portrait, others are not quite sure, believing that the style was indicative of Leonardo’s earlier work and not of his style when he was older.
The Horse and Rider is the only known sculptural work by Leonardo. In a private collection for centuries, it’s widely believed that Leonardo’s apprentice Francesco Melzi took possession of it when Leonardo died, and that it remained in his family until the 20th century. This artwork is a model piece (12 inches x 12 inches x 7 inches) for a large sculpture that was never created. While there is no confirmation, many believe that an imprint on the piece is actually a fingerprint of Leonardo’s.
A lovely drawing, or study, of Marchesa Isabella d’Este hangs in the Louvre. In 2013, a painting was discovered at a bank among hundreds of artworks that belonged to an Italian family. Finally, in early 2015, the Swiss authorities removed it from the bank vault. Some do believe that the painting may be the final version of the Louvre piece — with Isabella d’Este sitting in profile wearing a green and red dress with a golden crown adorning her head — due to carbon printing and pigment testing; however, others aren’t quite sure, as the painting is on canvas rather than wood, which was very rare for the time. Needless to say, more research and testing are needed.
The Battle of Anghiari is a truly lost work by Leonardo da Vinci — in its fresco form, anyway. Often referred to as ‘the Lost da Vinci,’ it is known that the piece was commissioned sometime around 1503; however, he never finished the project. Later on, in 1555, Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to paint over the work. Today, all that art lovers have left of the ‘lost’ work are some studies, along with a famous rendering by Peter Paul Rubens.
Codex Leicester is another rare manuscript held in a private collection. Owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, this work was recently showcased in an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and is sometimes displayed in other locales. Like the previously mentioned Codex of the Flight of Birds, this notebook also contains sketches, drawings, and text — written in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’ (right to left) — but instead of being about flight, this one is mostly about water and how it might react in other environments.