Rare $16 Million Leonardo da Vinci Drawing Discovered by Parisian Auction House

An expert at the Metropolitan Museum says the drawing is the real deal.

The French auction house Tajan announced today that a drawing taken to its Paris branch has been authenticated as a Leonardo da Vinci by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The drawing, which measures 19 by 13 centimeters and depicts a martyred St. Sebastian, has been valued at €15 million ($15.8 million) by Tajan, the New York Times reports.

This past March, a retired doctor brought 14 unframed drawings that his father had collected to the auction house and showed them to Thaddée Prate, director of old master pictures. During the quick meeting, a pen-and-ink study of St. Sebastian tied to a tree, inscribed on the mount “Michelange” (Michelangelo), caught Prate’s eye.

“I had a sense that it was an interesting 16th-century drawing that required more work,” the expert told the Times.

Prate asked Patrick de Bayser, an independent dealer and adviser in old master drawings, to have a look at the work. The expert then pointed out the drawing had been made by a left-handed artist, like da Vinci. Moreover, de Bayser spotted two small scientific drawings on the back of the sheet, studies of candlelight with hand notes written in a cursive style developed during the Italian Renaissance.

The back of the drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Courtesy Tajan,

The back of the drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Courtesy Tajan,

The two men exchanged excited glances and comments, but a third opinion was still required, and it came from Carmen C. Bambach, a curator of Italian and Spanish drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and organizer of the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman,” at the Met in 2003.

“My eyes jumped out of their sockets,” Bambach told the Times during a telephone interview, of her first sighting of the drawing in Paris, in late March. “The attribution is quite incontestable. What we have here is an open-and-shut case. It’s an exciting discovery,” she added.

“My heart will always pound when I think about that drawing,” Bambach said. “It has so many changes of ideas, so much energy in the way he explores the figure. It has a furious spontaneity. It’s like glancing over his shoulder.”

The curator thinks that the newly discovered drawing is the most highly developed of the three known studies associated with what may have been a lost painting of St. Sebastian. She estimates that the drawing was created between 1482 and 1485, while Leonardo lived in Milan and painted his first version of The Virgin of the Rocks.

This is the first drawing by Leonardo that has been discovered since 2000, when Bambach authenticated a pen-and-ink drawing depicting Hercules holding a club and an executioner sheathing his sword, dated between 1506 and 1508.

The front of the drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Courtesy Tajan.

The front of the drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Courtesy Tajan.

According to the artnet Price Database, the Hercules drawing, which had a high estimated of $750,000, failed to sell in July 2000 at Sotheby’s London. The Times reports that it was subsequently sold for about $550,000 and is now jointly owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York collector Leon Black and his wife, Debra Ressler.

On the other hand, Bambach rejected the claim that La Bella Principessa, which the London dealer Simon Dickinson valued at around as $150 million eight years ago was also by the Renaissance master. “It does not look like a Leonardo,” she said.

As for the future of the newly discovered da Vinci drawing, the Times reports that Louvre curators inspected it in October but didn’t release any official statements. France could declare the work a “national treasure” to prevent it from leaving the country, and would have 30 months to offer to acquire it for its “fair international market value.”

Otherwise, the government could issue a passport for the work, enabling its international sale, which would be the best scenario for the auction house.


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