Leonardo’s Lost Princess: Peter Silverman Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci. Or is it a fake?


Leonardo’s Lost Princess is a wonderful book written by art collector and art historian Peter Silverman detailing his discovery of a real Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting. It reads like a thriller in the Da Vinci Code mold, except that contrary to Dan Brown’s best seller it is absolutely based on facts.

Here is how the book is presented to the readers from the back cover, which is self-explanatory:

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.


It is indeed interesting to read all the detailed informations contained in this book and the amount of skepticism put forth by people who should have been open to new ideas and hypotheses – museum curators, arts experts, art journalists – who tried to deny so much clear evidence, even if they were confronted with scientific proof of authenticity. Starting with Christie’s in house expert François Borne who had incredibly classified this Leonardo’s masterpiece as a XIX century work by an anonymous German nazarene romantic.

The lady who trusted Christie’s expert – her husband Gianni Marchig was an artist close to Bernard Berenson – sued them after the truth had been revealed but her case was rejected because more than 3 years had passed since the transaction.
Working as a team with his wife Kathy, Peter Silverman had already made a name in the art world by buying, in the early ’90s, a wonderful wooden crucifix later attributed to Michelangelo and in 2000 discovering 3 van Dyck paintings and then a Raphael assigned instead to an anonymous hand of the XVI century.
Peter had tried to get la Bella Principessa as it is known in 1998 with an anonymous bid but he was beaten. He regretted it deeply having been struck by that image and lived regretting not to have offered more until the year 2007 when, casually walking in the New York shop of Kate Ganz he found her there on sale once more.

Since writing the above words I have been convinced by contrary arguments: sorry, this sketch attributed to Leonardo is a clever and contemporary forgery.




Peter Silverman (with Catherine Whitney) Leonardo’s Lost Princess Wiley, 280 pages, 2012. ISBN-10: 0470936401  ISBN-13: 978-0470936405

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