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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 13:10 EDT

A lost Leonardo? Top art historian says maybe

September 22, 2005

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Move over, Mona Lisa. If Carlo Pedretti’s
hunch is right, the world may soon have another Leonardo da
Vinci masterpiece to admire.

A stunningly beautiful painting called Mary Magdalene which
the world-class art historian suspects may have been painted by
Leonardo da Vinci together with one of his pupils will soon go
on public view for the first time in more than half a century.

The painting, measuring 58 cm by 45 cm, was believed to
have been painted in 1515, four years before the master died.

It goes on display in October in the Adriatic port of
Ancona and depicts Magdalene bare breasted, wearing a red robe
and holding a transparent veil over her belly.

It has been attributed to Giampietrino, a Leonardo pupil
whose work can be found in some of the world’s greatest
museums, including Leningrad’s Hermitage and London’s National
Gallery.

But Pedretti, director of the Armand Hammer Center for
Leonardo Studies at the University of California at Los
Angeles, suspects it may be much more.

“Because of the very high quality, I am inclined to believe
that it is much more than a supervision of the student by the
master,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview from his
part-time home in Tuscany.

“I can’t say for sure yet, but this is my position and I am
prepared to follow up with the whole process of laboratory
verification and the rest of it,” the 77-year-old professor
said, speaking in English.

Pedretti, co-curator of the exhibition of works by
Giampietrino and others, said the work “has the character of a
Giampietrino painting but is far beyond his qualities.”

PRIVATE COLLECTIONS

The painting has been in private collections for nearly all
its recorded history in the past 100 years or so.

A black-and-white photo of it was taken in the 1920s in
Vienna. It was last exhibited briefly in the United States in
1949 and Pedretti recently tracked it down to a private
collector in Switzerland.

Pedretti, who has devoted most of his life to studying
Leonardo, is cautious but hopeful that his hunch will prove
correct.

He wants the painting to undergo an infrared reflectogram,
a technique for viewing the under drawings and various paint
stages of a painting using cameras equipped with
infrared-sensitive detectors.

Pedretti said if traces of sketches were found it would be
“extremely important” because Leonardo sketches are very easy
to identify.

“First of all, it still has to be examined in a laboratory.
I want to see a reflectogram and other examinations. But one
extraordinary thing is that it is painted on an intact wood
panel, just like the Mona Lisa,” he said.

The exhibition is called “Leonardo – Genius and Vision in
the Marche Region,” after the area of Italy where it will be
held and which is home to the city of Urbino, where Leonardo
worked in briefly in 1502.

Its co-sponsors include the Italian Culture Ministry and a
Vatican foundation.

Leonardo is known to have collaborated with students to
complete some of his works. For example, one copy of “Virgin of
the Rocks” is believed to have been painted jointly by Leonardo
and Ambrogio De Predis.

If the Magadalene painting turns out to be of Leonardo’s
hand, even if only partially, it would be only one of a few by
the master of a nude woman. Another is “Leda and the Swan.”

Pedretti said he had no personal agenda to suggest that
Leonardo may have had a major role in the painting.

“I don’t think I need to draw attention to myself at my
age. I’m just proposing this possibility in the service of
scholarship,” he said.