Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fake or fortune?

Expert takes closer look at alleged da Vinci self-portrait
This is a photo of the suspected Da Vinci portrait Dr. David Bershad will be investigating.
 This is a photo of the suspected Da Vinci portrait Dr. David Bershad will be investigating.
CALGARY — The image has none of the allure of Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile but a portrait of a middle-aged man — thought to be a self-portrait painted by Leonardo da Vinci — has raised almost as many questions.
A Calgary art historian — along with a baker's dozen of scientists — hope to find the answers in a detective story that could have a priceless payoff.
David Bershad, an art history professor at St. Mary's University and the University of Calgary, will head to Chieti, Italy, next month to help assess the authenticity of the portrait and attempt to determine if it were painted by da Vinci hundreds of years ago.
The oil-on-wood painting was discovered in 2009 by a medieval historian studying the picture collection of a family in southern Italy. Now known as the Acarenza Portrait — after the Italian town where it was discovered — the painting is of a middle-aged man with blue eyes, long, greying hair and a moustache.
The question to answer is whether the image is a self-portrait of the Renaissance master himself. The answer could be priceless.
"It would be the most important Leonardo discovery in the last 150 years," Bershad said. "It would be impossible to put a value on it."
The investigation echoes da Vinci's own passions, intertwining the worlds of art and science.
Bershad is the only art historian — and the lone North American — on the 14-member panel; the rest are scientists.
Like a modern detective story, finding the clues to answer the question of the painting's provenance will take old-fashioned research and the tools of modern science: forensic tests, fingerprint analysis, facial recognition technology and techniques to analyze the types of spores in the wood, the pigments in the paint.
"It shows this extraordinary interweaving between the arts, humanities and sciences. It's the personification of interdisciplinary studies," Bershad said.
Bershad's role will be to work backward, delving through archives in search of bibliographies and inventories, pulling threads that could trace the history of the painting to its origins.
There will be no definitive answer to this mystery, however. Identifying a painter or subject is not a science, Bershad said.
"Even the best scientific analysis can only tell you when it dated from," he said. "But you still haven't proved without any doubt whatsoever that it is Leonardo or that it is painted by Leonardo. Nothing will be 100 per cent with a smoking gun."
The results of the scientific analysis on the 61x43-centimetre piece will be unveiled in on May 8 at a conference at the University of Chieti. Bershad has received the data little by little but said he will hold on to his opinion until he sees the work in person next month.
The professor, who has lectured and researched da Vinci extensively during his 40 years studying the Italian Renaissance, said that even if the painting is of another man done by da Vinci the news will resound throughout the academic and art world.
"A work by a great master, whether from the Renaissance or a different period, is an exciting discovery," he said. "Everyone wants to find a new masterpiece."

No comments:

Post a Comment