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Leonardo's Lost Princess: One Man's Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci Hardcover – February 1, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470936401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470936405
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #709,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

The memory had haunted Peter Silverman for nine years. In 1998, he had seen an exquisite nine-by-thirteen-inch portrait of a lovely young woman in a richly detailed costume. As much as he was captivated by its beauty, he was intrigued by the catalog annotation, which said it was "German, early 19th century." He was certain that the piece was either a genuine Renaissance work or a brilliant forgery. He resolved to pay up to twice the minimum estimate for this extraordinary jewel at auction, but when the time came, he lost his nerve at $17,000. Now, nine years later, here it was again, for sale in a Manhattan gallery. It would not escape his grasp this time. Still, he had no inkling of the momentous discovery he was about to make or the great controversy that would follow.

In Leonardo's Lost Princess, Silverman tells the riveting story of how his initial suspicions of the portrait's provenance grew as one art expert after another confirmed his view that this haunting image was, indeed, created in the fifteenth century, that the artist was certainly left-handed, and that the quality of the work was extraordinarily fine. Few, least of all Silverman himself, were willing to even hint that it was the rarest of all finds, an original masterpiece by the greatest painter in history. More proof was needed, but where could it be found?

Silverman's account of the cutting-edge science used to authenticate the portrait—from radiocarbon dating to multispectral photography—is as fascinating as it is convincing. Not only were scientists able to prove that the materials dated from Leonardo da Vinci's lifetime, an analysis of photos taken of the portrait using thirteen different light spectra revealed beyond doubt that the work was made by the master himself. They also provided hints to the drawing's history over the intervening centuries.

Still, many questions remained unanswered. Who was this poised and beautiful young woman? Why had Leonardo, who was very busy at the time with multiple projects for his patron, the Duke of Milan, and others, spent valuable time making this small and modest portrait in chalk and ink? Where had it been hiding for five centuries? The answers to these questions could only be found through good, old-fashioned research and legwork, which would take investigators from Paris to Milan to, improbably, Warsaw. The answers they found are surprising, revealing, and often moving.

Complete with vivid accounts of the art-world controversy sparked by Silverman's claim, similar controversies over the authenticity of works supposedly by Leonardo, and the very different lives of Leonardo and the lovely young woman who was his subject, Leonardo's Lost Princess is part whodunit, part revealing exposé, and all-enthralling tale of an impossible dream come true.

From the Back Cover

A Princess Found

In 1496, a beautiful princess was preparing to marry in Milan. Bianca was the daughter of Duke Ludovico Sforza and betrothed to Galeazzo Sanseverino, commander of the duke's armies. Portraits were often commissioned during the Renaissance to mark major events in a subject's life, and a court artist named Leonardo da Vinci was given the task of memorializing Bianca.

Tragically, the princess died soon after her wedding. Then her portrait, the last evidence of her existence, was also lost.

At a New York City gallery in 2007, Peter Silverman saw a portrait catalogued as "German, early 19th century." Thinking it misattributed and regretting not buying it once before, he scooped it up for a mere $19,000 and began a long quest to discover its origins. He hardly dared utter the "L" word: Leonardo.

Giants in the field of art history and scholarship soon would, though, as the best of connoisseurship was used to authenticate La Bella Principessa. Science would then confirm their judgments. The picture was carbon-dated, digitally examined with multispectral imaging, even scrutinized for fingerprints—and one of Leonardo's was found along with a palm print. Bianca was identified as the subject, and her clothes and hair were matched to those of her period.

Many in the art community still would not believe, but Silverman persisted and, with the help of Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp, discovered its provenance: the tribute book from which the picture had been removed. After more than 500 years the beautiful princess was home again.

The picture is valued at $150 million, but its value to the art world is incalculable—and its story is unforgettable.

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Customer Reviews

If you dig ancient mysteries, keep digging them.
Eleanor Sampson
The journey of the lost Leonardo , is told by Peter Silverman who with his wife Kathy lived every moment of this remarkable story.
Anne Satterthwaite
This work has many gifts to share with those who aspire to seek and enjoy what is truly beautiful.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jon Boone on February 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The American art collector with Polish roots, Peter Silverman, who acquired a painting he loved for less than $20,000 in 2007, briskly recounts how that painting became recognized as an unusual--and priceless--work of that master of masters, Leonardo da Vinci. Guided by one of the world's leading Leonardo scholars, Martin Kemp, who dubbed the work, The Beautiful Princess, and informed by the latest CSI scientific scrutiny, led by the work of Pascal Cote's Lumiere Technology, Silverman tells a thrilling tale filled with suspense and ultimate validation, with the clincher coming out of the blue in the winter cold of Warsaw, thereby completing a circuit of discovery perhaps unrivaled for the elegance of its traverse.

The Beautiful Princess depicts Bianca Sforza, the 14-year old daughter of Leonardo's patron in Milan, whom the painter portrayed as part of a marriage celebration document in 1496 (or, perhaps, in eulogy for her untimely death four months after the marriage). Leonardo worked on vellum, penning dark brown ink to make contours and hatch markings, which complemented a skillful application of red, white, and black chalk. For Leonardo scholars, this technique was unique among the master's media repertoire, although all acknowledge Leonardo's penchant for innovation (most evident, alas, in The Last Supper).

For those who simply enjoy savoring the beauty of the work--and it is astonishing at many levels of consideration, do consider reading both Kemp's book on the subject, published in 2010, La Bella Principessa, and the brief article about the painting in the current (February) issue of National Geographic. Connoisseurs must continue to hope the "drawing/painting" will soon find a place where the public can see it face-to-face, for it is now secured in a Zurich vault.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By john ramsey on March 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Fortune favors the prepared mind. Author and thirty-year art collector, Peter Silverman, was prepared for some spectacularly good fortune--the one-in-a-million discovery of an unknown portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci. What he was not prepared for (another maxim: no good deed goes unpunished) was the maelstrom that followed the announcement of his discovery. That adventure, or misadventure, is the subject of Leonardo's Lost Princess: One Man's Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Quest is an apt term here because the experience Silverman shares is a variation of "the hero's journey". The steps of this undertaking as charted by American mythologist Joseph Campbell and others include "the call to adventure," "the road of trials," "the meeting with the goddess," "the ultimate boon," "rescue from without," and "master of the two worlds". As Campbell summarizes, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

However over the top the hero analogy may seem, Silverman's story mirrors the pattern. The very twists and turns Silverman encounters in the course of his quest make for a riveting, instructive and well-written tale.

Leonardo's Lost Princess reverberates with the cultural issues of our day. Christie's, for example, comes across as the auction house that is too big to fail, or at least too self-important to admit the "blatant misattribution" of the Leonardo portrait as a late 19th century German work. There is also the interplay of science and with technologically unadorned expertise.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor Sampson on February 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written book that draws the reader into Silverman's journey, from discovery to intrigue to obsession and, ultimately, validation. He shows a side of the insular art collector and high end dealer world that is fascinating and chilling. One would think others would join Silverman's quest to validate the portrait, but egos, reputations and lawsuits prove to be major hurdles. There is a dark side to the art world; one in which the credentials of so-called experts aren't questioned, and people look the other way when multi-million dollars mistakes are made.

I found myself cheering for Silverman as he soldiered on, never losing faith that his instincts were correct. He may make a fortune from selling this painting, but I suspect that that the public validation is priceless.

WOW - nice review from the LA Times!

The Siren's Call: The past is never past

History is now in 'Leonardo's Lost Princess,' A.S. Byatt's 'Ragnarok' and 'How to Win an Election.'

By Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

March 4, 2012

"The past is never dead," Faulkner famously wrote in "Requiem for a Nun." "It's not even past" -- and nothing demonstrates that maxim better than the discovery of a "new" painting by a revered, long-dead artist.

Suddenly, it is as if that person is alive and well again and walking among us.

Art collector Peter Silverman had such a jolting recognition concerning a painting he saw in the late 1990s and again at a New York City auction in 2007.
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