Saturday, August 23, 2008

Portrait Gallery: Leonardo, Is That You?

So, reports the New York Times, there is a possibility that this demure young lady with the inscrutable smile may be about to join a very exclusive society, one most famous, actually, for an inscrutable smile.

Yes, say some scholars, this is a forgotten and now rediscovered painting by Leonard da Vinci, one "almost too beautiful to be true."

No, say others, it's a moderately competent portrait of a woman of about the right period, and "a strangely cool and lifeless one at that."

As for me, well, I just don't know. She's lovely, no question, but somehow she lacks the passing-strange quality of La Gioconda, Lady with an Ermine, or John the Baptist. Leonardo certainly had many talented students, after all, and I can't help thinking that he somehow also had a better idea of just how a head sits on a neck.

Given that the painting last sold for a little under $22,000 and has, if the attribution holds, already had some interest in the neighborhood of $50,000,000, I suppose a lot of people do hope that the unholy combination of forensics and aesthetics don't detect some other hand in the picture, so small, so fragile, so mysterious.

In the meantime, she sits in a vault, awaiting a verdict more fraught than that for any Idol (American, Pop, Star Academy, you name it). If the thumbs are up, she'll be the biggest star in many years, and you'll soon be sick to death of seeing her on note cards, T-shirts, mugs, and tea towels; if not, she'll end up a curiosity to be relegated to some provincial museum.

And Madge thinks she has it tough!

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