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Has A New Leonardo da Vinci Sketch Been Found In Italy?

No artist in history has ever captured the public's attention like Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci, and it's likely that none ever will. The 15th-century polymath was undoubtedly one of the most gifted human beings who ever lived, and his works of art have sold for record prices all over the planet. Anything that has da Vinci's name attached to it is guaranteed to attract headlines and big money, and that's why it's always huge news when new discoveries are made. One such discovery might just have been made in Italy - and it's already attracting controversy.

Da Vinci is still a very marketable brand for a man who's been dead for five hundred years. Unthinkably for a figure from high culture, he's become the unwitting star of online slots. Browse through the library of many top-end online slots website, and you'll find more than a dozen no deposit casino that bear his name, from the fairly straightforward "da Vinci Diamonds" to the slightly more abstract "da Vinci Extreme." It isn't easy to imagine any other artist - with the possible exception of Vincent van Gogh - having such a high profile that they could persuade people to spend money on playing online slots. However much money can be won on those slots, though, it's just a fraction of what his creations sell for when they turn up at auction. That's why the people responsible for this latest discovery will be hoping they can have their find verified as soon as possible.

We won’t keep you in suspense any longer. The discovery, first reported in newspapers in Italy but subsequently picked up on by the Smithsonian, is a red chalk drawing that might have served as the inspiration for "Salvador Mundi." Annalisa Di Maria, who works for the Florence division of UNESCO, first heard about the drawing when she was contacted by a private collector who suspected its authorship but wanted an opinion by someone qualified to make the call. Having closely studied the composition of the drawing, she's utterly convinced that it's a genuine da Vinci. It's drawn in the same three-quarters perspective that features in so many of his paintings, and the beard and hairstyle is a perfect match for a number of his other verified works, too. To back up her assumption, she arranged to have the paper tested in a laboratory. There, it was proven to date from the early 16th century.

While Di Maria has satisfied herself that the newly-discovered drawing is da Vinci’s work, others are yet to be convinced. Genuine da Vinci’s are rare, and the history of art-related scams is littered with incidences of supposed da Vinci paintings and drawings being sold under false pretenses, only to be revealed as fakes or forgeries further down the line. The situation is sometimes not helped by the fact that da Vinci operated a studio in which many of his students were taught to paint in his style. Di Maria hopes to win over the doubters by publishing a sixty-page document to accompany the first public exhibition of the work after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted in Italy, at which point she’ll hopefully shed more light on where the drawing has been hiding for the past five centuries. Even then, though, she might have a mountain to climb with the most committed doubters. That won’t surprise her. Even she must accept that it’s ironic for her to find herself claiming this piece as the source material for “Salvador Mundi” when she has, in the past, suggested that “Salvador Mundi” may not actually be the da Vinci masterpiece it’s been sold as.

When “Salvador Mundi” was sold in 2018 for the eye-watering price of four hundred and fifty million dollars, it attracted the attention of the world's press. Most of the journalists who reported on the sale at the time were surprised to find that as recently as six years earlier, the painting wasn't considered to be by da Vinci at all. Instead, it was attributed to his assistant Antonio Boltraffio. The circumstances behind the shift in attribution are contentious, and even today, there are still those who feel that the buyer was 'ripped off' by a misleading sale. While it's undeniably painted in the style of da Vinci, there's little evidence to support the idea that the brushstrokes came from his own hand. The controversy was enough to lead to the cancellation of a planned exhibition of the painting at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi in September 2018, which led to rumors that the work had been discovered to be that of da Vinci imitator Bernardino Luini. That suggestion has been flatly denied, but the debate remains ongoing. Yet another idea is that da Vinci did indeed create a painting called "Salvador Mundi," but the one sold in 2018 wasn't the same painting. In all likelihood, we'll probably never get an answer to this question that satisfies everybody.

If Di Maria is correct about the veracity of the new drawing, it adds a further wrinkle to the debate about "Salvador Mundi" as a whole. Should it be proven that da Vinci drew this sketch as a study, it adds more weight to the idea that he also painted "Salvador Mundi." On the other hand, there are subtle differences in the facial features of the person seen in the picture and the face of Christ as seen on "Salvador Mundi." That might be because the great artist decided to make a few changes between his sketch and his finished product - or it could be because the artists working in da Vinci's studio were given the sketch to work off as a reference guide, and the painting came as a result of that. Unfortunately, we have no idea what the content of Annalisa's length report contains. When we do, it might get us one step closer to solving this five-hundred-year-old mystery. Alternatively - and perhaps more likely - it will only serve to re-amplify the debate and lead to fresh arguments that continue for the next decade.

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