Art law Controversies United Kingdom

Scholars divided over Leonardo attribution

Where did the drawing come from—and is it the real thing?

Leonardo's "Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb" (detail)

london. Simon C. Dickinson Ltd is now the owner of Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb, having reimbursed Nasser Kazeminy for the $7m he paid. If authentic, the gallery stands to make a profit, but if not then its value as an anonymous drawing is modest. So where did the drawing come from—and is it the real thing?

Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb was bought before 1985 by the Sackler family or one of its trusts. Its earlier provenance is unclear, but it apparently belonged to a Mario Sassi in the 1950s and was later in a Venetian collection. By 1979 the Leonardo was in Geneva, and it presumably had required an export licence to leave Italy.

The drawing was first published in 1979, in a monograph by the Italian Leonardo specialist Carlo Pedretti. Between 1979 and 1982 he showed it in exhibitions in Vinci, Rome and Milan.

Pedretti, the leading expert of Leonardo drawings studies, continues to accept Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb. In April 2008 he wrote to Dickinson that he was “well familiar” with the work, which he regarded as authentic. Pedretti’s judgement gives the drawing great credibility, although some scholars feel that he is too “inclusive” in his attributions.

The other leading authority is Martin Kemp, emeritus professor at the University of Oxford. In 1992 he exhibited the work at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, labelled as by Leonardo. However, in his catalogue, Kemp admitted its status was unclear: it could have been authentic, from the artist’s studio or a skilled forgery. Kemp himself plumped for a fourth theory: the underlying drawing is by Leonardo, dating to around 1501, but the composition has been reinforced by a later hand.

After having had the chance to study the work more closely in Edinburgh alongside fully accepted drawings, Kemp began to waver. When he saw the drawing again in spring 2006 he expressed his concerns.

In June 2008, Kemp and his colleague Juliana Barone (Birkbeck College, University of London) were invited to inspect the work at Dickinson’s gallery. On 3 July 2008 Kemp revised his opinion, concluding that rather than dating from around 1501, he would “now assign the drawing to the French period, 1516-9”, as a Leonardo.

Although no longer the owner, Gheri Sackler commented after learning of Kemp’s verdict that “definitely this increases the value of the drawing considerably”. Kemp is only too aware that academics are put in a difficult position when their attribution has a major impact on the financial value of a work. He himself has a strict policy of not accepting payment for attributions.

Kemp is now reluctant to discuss Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb, because of the extraneous legal disputes which have developed. How­ever, since 2008 he is believed to have had growing doubts about the drawing.

Conservator Peter Bower examined the drawing in 2008 at the request of Dickinson. Bower believes the paper is French, rather than Italian. “The paper evidence suggests that it is likely that the drawing was executed during Leo­nardo’s time at Amboise be­tween 1517-19,” he concluded.

Italian specialist Carlo Vecce (University of Naples L’Orien­tale) told us that although he has not inspected the drawing, based on photographs he believes it is “authentic”. It was also accepted by Patricia Trutty-Coohill (Siena College, Loudonville, New York) in her 1993 study of Leonardo drawings in American collections (at this point its location was given as New York).

However, other scholars are doubtful about the attribution. Carmen Bambach, a specialist at New York’s Metropolitan Mus­eum (and curator of the 2003 exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman”), saw the drawing in 2006. She rejects it and told us that it is “of a later date, on paper of 1540-90”. This makes it at least 20 years after Leonardo’s death and possibly considerably later.

Hugo Chapman, a British Museum specialist and curator of last year’s “Fra Angelico to Leonardo” exhibition, saw Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb some years ago. He told us that he “does not think it is by Leonardo”.

Martin Clayton, a Leonardo specialist at Windsor Castle, has not seen the drawing and as a Royal Collection curator he feels it would be inappropriate to comment. He does not refer to the drawing in any of his published writings.

Frank Zöllner, of Leipzig University, does not include the work in his 2003 monograph, Leonardo da Vinci: the Com­plete Paintings and Drawings.

Specialists from both Chris­tie’s and Sotheby’s have seen the drawing, and neither auction house apparently accepts it (although they never comment on works they are not selling). John Martin QC, for Accidia, said in the High Court that “the whole complaint by Mr Kazeminy was on the basis that the drawing was tainted because Sotheby’s and Chris­tie’s had seen it and had said ‘not interested’.”

Dickinson director Emma Ward is convinced of the Leo­nardo attribution and is undertaking what will be the most comprehensive research on the drawing. She intends to invite all the experts to inspect it out of the frame. Once this work has been completed, Madonna and Child with St Anne and a Lamb will be offered for sale—and the market will decide.

The most expensive Leonardo drawing to sell at auction is Horse and Rider, around 1480-81, which went for £8.1m at Christie’s in 2001, since when prices of the greatest old masters have risen.

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18 Feb 11
16:31 CET


At first glance the drawing has the clumsiness of a Bernardino Luini such as his Martyrdom of St Catherine-Then at second glance-i was reminded of the drawing of Raphel-mainly his drawing/study for the Alba Modonna-there is a strong similarity to weight of drawing line and frivolity of facial expression. Compare the drawing surfaces/mediums of these two artist. Otherwise come see me and I will place bets I can athenticate the Da Vinci image to the appropriate artist-Skeith De Wine

17 Feb 11
21:19 CET


a very well written article on such a mysterious drawing, possibly not a Leonardo but an interesting ancient witness of a lost project of his: the only missing scholar among those whose advice is quoted is Pietro Marani (a considerable fault, yet!).

4 Feb 11
19:15 CET


It looks like the kind of fake you'd see on eBay. At least the sappy-looking fake with the faked junk-science behind it, "La Bella Principessa" (Italian, first half of the 20th century?), took some skill.

4 Feb 11
17:51 CET


Where is the forensics? Does the DNA in the paper match that of other known works? Does the molecular positioning of the Carbon atoms in the charcoal match that of known works? Art knows not Science?

4 Feb 11
14:52 CET


any independent scholar who just blinks and gives an opinion on any work of art is not a good expert.

4 Feb 11
4:19 CET


Obviously not a DaVinci. Clumsy, no finesse. I doubt that any independent scholar would need more than a Gladwell "Blink" to say it isn't so....

3 Feb 11
23:18 CET


it does look muddled, but what is the paper experts final opinion on the paper?

3 Feb 11
23:4 CET


As a specialist in Leonardo's drawings, I might add my opinion. Clearly this is not a drawing by Leonardo. It is an awkward and muddled composition, much too overworked, with figurative details and faces unworthy of the great master draftsman. Mercy! Among the drawing's supporters, Kemp and Pedretti may be first-rate Leonardo scholars but they are both second-rate and opportunistic connoisseurs of Leonardo's drawings, most recently evidenced in the case of "La Bella Principessa", a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld which they and an exploitive cabal have ridiculously given with much sound and fury to Leonardo.

3 Feb 11
19:58 CET


The lopsided head of the Virgin gives it away. See FALSE IMPRESSIONS: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes by Thomas Hoving.

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