Every once in a while, a new theory concerning one of art history’s greats emerges, raising questions about these dead, mostly white, and mostly male, artists. Did Rembrandt use optics to paint his self-portraits? Does this pair of panther-riding drunks represent the only surviving metal works by Michelangelo? Did van Gogh slice off his ear to stop his brother’s marriage? And was Mona Lisa a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in drag, a portrait of his neighbor, or a cover-up of another portrait?
While many of these claims are based on well-researched studies, some are more dubious. Sometimes a discovery can even seem like a full-on hoax, such as a portrait allegedly of a young Leonardo da Vinci recently unveiled last month at, curiously, an art gallery in Las Vegas. And making the finding even sweeter is the possibility that the artist responsible for painting it was Caravaggio.
News of the painting arrives exclusively from a press release issued by an organization called News Press International (NPI), which also shared a video recap of the gallery event.
“The artwork is believed to have been painted in either 1592 or 1596 when the young Caravaggio made his way to Rome hoping to make a name for himself and win commissions from Vatican patrons,” the release states, adding that Caravaggio ended up working in the studio of Antiveduto Grammatica, where painters were tasked with creating multiple versions of portraits of famous Renaissance figures, such as da Vinci. “Scholars note that this possible ‘Caravaggio’ bears a striking resemblance to known imagery of Leonardo that would likely have been found in Grammatica’s studio … Experts who are reviewing the painting say scientific analysis will be conducted for the next several months.”
NPI representative Robert Zane ignored Hyperallergic’s request to specify the expert individuals and scholars involved in examining the painting. But he did explain through email that NPI — which, strangely, doesn’t have an online record — is a brand new website covering the arts, culture, and entertainment. The only expert involved in this case who is identified is Curtis Dowling, an art forgery investigator. Perhaps you know him as host of CNBC’s reality TV series “Treasure Detectives.”
According to Zane, Dowling had been contacted by the anonymous owner of the painting, which had for years resided in their old family home near Florence. Dowling had the honor of unveiling the portrait at the Las Vegas gallery SKYE Art, where he stated that the portrait, if a genuine portrait of a young Leonardo by Caravaggio, could be worth $100 million. The owner appears to have accepted this speculation as fact, as the work hangs in a frame recently made in the style of an Italian Renaissance Casseta (“little box”) frame, with the names of both artists etched around it.
And really, all we can do so far is speculate, given the evidence NPI currently presents. The scholars involved, according to the release, note that this oil painting displays brushwork, texture, color, and use of chiaroscuro all associated with Caravaggio, which is a fair, albeit vague, judgment. Zane also told Hyperallergic that spectral analysis of paint layers has so far revealed traces of white lead — ground pigments, he pointed out, that Caravaggio often used in all his early paintings. But Caravaggio certainly wasn’t the only artist to have used the poisonous pigment.
The rest of their proof is similarly shaky: as evidence, the anonymous experts involved provide proof of a known painting of Leonardo that was likely found in Grammatica’s studio that resembles the mystery painting. They also liken the visage of the alleged Leonardo to that of a figure in the far right of Leonardo’s “Adoration of the Magi.” But we haven’t yet been able to say for certain that the curly haired boy with bangs is indeed a self-portrait.
My favorite piece of presented evidence, though, is that the subject of this newly unveiled painting shares “identical facial impediments” to a bronze statue of David by Verrochio that again, some believe the sculptor modeled after Leonardo, a student in his workshop. These “impediments” comprise a few wrinkles beneath both figures’ right eyes — eye bags, if you will.
Is this a prime example of fake news in the art world? Maybe — and if it’s not, maybe I’ll eat this article. But for now, I’d suggest we file this one under Highly Questionable Claims Concerning 16-Century European Artworks.
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