I recently came across this article in the Daily Mail about the possible discovery of a new Da Vinci, an artist so notoriously prolific that to this day the amount of paintings actually attributable to him is less than the amount of paintings Picasso churned out in a month (ok, I might be exaggerating. A little.) I have waited it out to see if the Daily Mail was going to publish a qualifying article implying the true artist had been identified. Or rather, I had a glorious entry all lined up which was then eaten by WordPress. Nevertheless, I have determined that this entry must be published, if only to demonstrate to my
captive willing audience my skills in art sleuthing, such as they are.
Now, what makes this article interesting is that it uses Morellian techniques of art identification to argue the validity of this painting as a Da Vinci. Morelli believed that the connoisseur could compare usually overlooked aspects of a painting, such as the ears or feet, as a means of identifying the artist’s hand, rather than focusing on more obvious aspects, such as the face, that a copyist might put more work into. This is the rather long winded way of telling you that I shall therefore use Morellian techniques to explain why I do not believe this painting is by Da Vinci.
1. The children in the painting DO NOT resemble those in the Virgin of the Rocks
Da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1483-6, Louvre, detail. (image courtesy of Wikipedia, my crop)
As you can see here, the children in the presumed Da Vinci look nothing like those in these legitimate (which, coincidentally, has two version, which alone is probably worth its own blog post if I ever remember). In the Virgin of the Rocks, the children’s features are not crudely outlined but rather insinuated through shadow, a classic Da Vinci trait and one that is lacking throughout this entire new painting (look at the “Magdalene” for a second, then go look at any woman painted by Da Vinci and tell me you see any similarity, I dare you).
2. The V-Shape in the woman’s hairline reminiscent of the woman in the Last Supper
Ok, now allow me to explain something to the uninitiated. There is a long standing theory about the figure to Jesus’ right in the Last Supper is actually Mary Magdalene and that this makes it his wife, etc… thank you Dan Brown for making such conspiracy theories popular. I do not have a qualm with the conspiracy theory. My qualm is with trying to secure an attribution to Da Vinci using this as your comparative material:
Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-8, Milan, detail. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia, my crop)
Yeah, I thought it was rather difficult to see the resemblance too.
Furthermore, the article explains that this has to be Mary Magdalene because she is wearing a red dress, and the Virgin Mary is always represented in blue. What the article neglects to mention is that the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed in a blue mantle, with a red dress underneath it. See?
Da Vinci, Virgin and Child with St. Anne, c.1508, Louvre. (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Da Vinci, The Annunciation, c. 1472-5, Florence. (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Boticelli, Madonna and Child with an Angel, 1465-7, Florence. (image courtesy of Wikipedia) I thought I might throw in a Boticelli in for good measure just so you would know that it wasn’t just a Da Vinci thing. So, an argument can be made that the figure in the Last Supper could be a Magdalene, but the odds in this painting are incredibly slim.
3. Fleur de Lys=Priory of Sion
Again, thank you Dan Brown. If you look on Wikipedia, the Priory of Sion is regarded as a rather trumped-up cult wildly abused by a Frenchman in the mid-twentieth century in order to make himself feel important. Repeat after me class. Using a work of fiction largely based on conspiracy theories to legitimize a painting is not okay.
4. The area around the shoulder is unfinished
The area around the shoulder could be unfinished, true. It could also be grimey from dirty varnished that hasn’t been cleaned off yet too. Besides, considering the background appears to be a drab thing in comparison to landscapes Da Vinci normally includes, I wouldn’t be drawing attention to this part of the painting if I were trying to legitimize it myself.
5. Tracing of the outline matches outline of figure in Last Supper.
See #2. If one cannot prove conclusively that that figure is Mary Magdalene, one cannot use it in the argument twice. Besides, all this means is that this painting was done after the Last Supper, which fits the description of any painting produced after 1498.
6. Baby’s second toe is longer than the big toe = Classic Da Vinci
At last, we are actually using Morellian techniques properly. However, this is not a sufficient reason to attribute this painting to Da Vinci.
And lastly, since this would really only matter to me as someone who is an art connoisseur, a lover of Da Vinci’s work, and a knitter…
Da Vinci, Virgin and Child with St. Anne, c.1508, Louvre, detail. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia, my crop)
The sheep is not realistic looking. As a man who arguably was more frustrated scientist/engineer than artist, Da Vinci would never have painted such an unattractive sheep.
Now, I want to finish by clarify something, lest I be hounded by the Daily Mail for slander. I am in no way blaming the writer of this article, who is probably only paid to recount the story. However, I do blame Fiona MacLaren for a) not taking care of this painting because she clearly thought it was worthless and b) suddenly deciding to care and hoping that it turns out to be much more valuable. I also blame the head of Sotheby’s Scotland for actually thinking this might be a Da Vinci, or at least going on record as saying as much. Considering that all the evidence I have put before you is easily accessible on Wikipedia, he has no excuse for not taking the time to be a bit more cautious.
My work here is done.