“Leonardo self-portrait” unveiled for world press

Archangel Gabriel, patron of diplomats and communicators, goes on show for first time. Photo: Philip Willan

ROME – A small square tile bearing a portrait of the Archangel Gabriel and said to be the first signed painting by Leonardo da Vinci was presented to the international press today in a move that could revolutionise understanding of the artistic career of the Renaissance genius.

 The maiolica tile, measuring 20 cm by 20 cm, shows the profile of a youth with plump cheeks, curly golden locks, and purple wings.

 Prof. Ernesto Solari said the slightly effeminate-looking youth was probably a self-portrait of Leonardo and the painting was the first to be signed by the Tuscan artist, aged 19 at the time.

 “This is absolutely the first self-portrait of the Renaissance genius and the first painting that he signed,” Prof. Solari told reporters at Rome’s Foreign Press Association, as the newly identified work was put on public display for the first time.

 Prof. Solari, a Da Vinci scholar, said the painted tile was probably fired in a furnace belonging to Leonardo’s grandfather in Bacchereto. Dated 1471, it had been given to Giovanna d’Aragona, the Duchess of Amalfi, who in 1499 had passed it on to the Fenicia family of Ravello as a reward for their services to her family. It had remained in the ownership of those southern Italian aristocrats ever since, he said.

 Prof. Solari said scientific tests on the tile had confirmed its age and the provenance of the clay, which is unusually low in quartz, from the Montelupo area where Leonardo’s grandfather operated in the maiolica business.

 The signature, running along the lower jaw of the angel and virtually invisible to the naked eye, had been confirmed as belonging to Leonardo by Ivana Bonfantino, a former professor of graphology.

 “I analysed the signature just as I would when I work as a consultant to the courts,” Prof. Bonfantino said.

 Prof. Bonfantino had compared the tiny signature, which reads ‘I Vinci Leonardo’ above the date ‘1471’, with other examples of Leonardo’s writing and, in particular, his signature on the contract for “The Virgin of the Rocks”, signed in 1483 and discovered in the State Archive of Milan seven years ago.

 The graphologist said her 150-page report came to a clear conclusion: “The writing on the face is attributable to the young Leonardo.”

 Prof. Solari said it was impossible to estimate the commercial value of the painting in the event that the art world agreed it was authentic.

 “You can’t put a figure on it. This is the first signed work by Leonardo da Vinci. It has been owned by the same family for 500 years and now they want people to know about it,” he said.

 The family may have been encouraged to go public with their heirloom after the record $450 million paid at auction last year by the Abu Dhabi Louvre to acquire another Leonardo painting, a portrait of Christ titled “Salvator Mundi”.

 Prof. Solari said the painting was part of Italy’s cultural heritage and the family hoped it would be bought by a major Italian museum. “This completes the mosaic of our knowledge of Leonardo. We had nothing from the period of his youth,” he said.

 “We lost the “Mona Lisa” (to the Paris Louvre), we can’t lose this as well!”