Lost da Vinci Painting Recovered


The painting, right, appears to be a completed version of a pencil sketch, left, drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1499.

A long-lost painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci was confiscated from a bank vault in Switzerland after Italian police said it had been exported illegally and was in danger of being sold for up to $138 million.

Swiss police, acting on a request by their Italian counterparts, seized the portrait of Renaissance noblewoman Isabella d’Este from a private bank vault in Lugarno.

After being lost for centuries, the painting was rediscovered in 2013 in a collection of 400 artworks kept in a Swiss vault. The authorities then were alerted to the existence of the painting, but it went missing again. It turned up last summer during an investigation into insurance fraud and it later emerged when an Italian lawyer was trying to negotiate the sale of the painting for $136 million.

Italian police said they decided to confiscate the work after discovering that negotiations for its sale were at an “advanced stage.”

“Once it arrives back in Italy, we will conduct further investigations to establish who really owns the work,” Italian prosecutors said in a statement.

The painting appears to be a fully-completed, painted version of a pencil sketch drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in Mantua in the Lombardy region of northern Italy in 1499. The original sketch hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Leonardo is thought to have met Isabella d’Este, who was one of the most influential female figures of her day and a leading patron of the arts.

A specialized art and antiquities unit of the Carabinieri police said they were investigating how the painting came to be “exported clandestinely” to Switzerland and could charge unidentified individuals with the illegal exportation of art works

Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 percent 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 in Oxford and one of the world’s foremost experts on the artist, has expressed doubts about whether the painting, which measures 24 inches by 18 inches, is the work of Leonardo.

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