An Unidentified Painting by Leonardo da Vinci
Huntington Gardens, near Pasadena in Southern California, was the garden home of Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927) and his wife, Arabella (1850–1924). It is now the Huntington Art Gallery, and Library, the first public gallery in Southern California and houses a collection of rare books and manuscripts that includes a Gutenburg Bible. The Art Collection owns ‘The Blue Boy’ by Gainsborough and ‘Pinkie’ by Laurence. Arabella Huntington’s collection of Italian medieval and renaissance paintings of a Madonna and Child, hang on the walls of a side corridor on the second floor. Among them is a masterpiece, Plate 1(I), ascribed to the Italian Artist Pinturicchio. Plate 2, the plaque next to this painting, states that Bernardino di Betto Pinturicchio was the artist who painted this picture. Pinturicchio was born in Verona about 1454 and died in Sienna in 1513. This painting was probably part of Arabella Huntington’s collection prior to her death in 1924, as shown by a photograph of one of her rooms where her medieval paintings were on display, Plate 3. Pinturicchio executed several Madonna and Child paintings including the oil painting called Virgin and Child with Saint, (1495-96), Plate 4(II), that was once part of the Altarpiece from the church of Santa Maria dei Fossi and is now in the Galleria Nationale of Umbria, Perugia.
The Umbria painting is similar to the Huntington painting, so similar in fact that they must have a common origin, Plate 5. The simplest explanation is that they were painted by the same artist, the Huntington painting being clearly the superior. However the faces of the two children are different and their curls are mirror images of each other. Hair curls are helical and may be either right-handed or left-handed as illustrated by the diagram in Plate 6. Just as right-handed people write from left to right, a right-handed painter will tend to paint from left to right, resulting in counter clockwise curls whose thread is the same as that of a right-handed screw. The reverse is true for left-handed people, they are more comfortable writing from right to left and will tend to paint with their left hand from right to left resulting in clockwise curls whose thread is the same as that of a left-handed screw. Plate 7 shows that the artist who painted the curls on the head of the child in the Umbria painting was probably right-handed, while the artist who painted the curls on the head of the child in the Huntington painting, was probably left-handed. This implies that different artists painted the two paintings, one right-handed and the other left-handed. I am assuming that Pinturicchio was right handed.
When I first saw the Huntington painting, I noted the resemblance of the child with his pointing finger to children in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and drawings. Leonardo (1452-1519 ) lived most of his life in Northern Italy and was a contemporary of Pinturicchio. Being left handed, it is possible that he may have painted this picture. This is corroborated by:
- The child is pointing with the forefinger of his right hand, a number of Leonardo’s paintings show this characteristic.
- The child is holding a glass orb similar to the orb held by the Salvator Mundi in the newly discovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The baby in the Umbria painting is holding an apple or a peach.
- The child and the Madonna have dimples at the corners of their mouths and the center of their mouth is slightly off center from their nose, a characteristic of other Leonardo paintings.
- Many of Leonardo’s paintings have a background of trees and sky.
- It is probable that Leonardo and Pinturicchio knew each other. Pinturicchio and his associate Perugino were both from Umbria. In1470 Perugino was an apprentice of Verrocchio. He therefore worked with Sandro Botticelli and the young Leonardo da Vinci.
Features 1, 2 and 3 are not found in the Umbria painting. In order to substantiate that Leonardo may be the artist who painted the Huntington picture, I compared the face of the child from the Huntington painting with one of Leonardo’s drawings, Plate 8, and the face of the Madonna to another of his drawings, Plate 9. These two comparisons show how similar both faces are to Leonardo’s work and help substantiate that Leonardo may have painted the Huntington picture. Plate 10 shows a comparison of the baby in the Huntington painting, holding a glass orb, with a similar glass orb held by the Salvator Mundi in the recently discovered Leonardo da Vinci painting.
Further confirmation was obtained when I turned my photograph of the Hunting painting upside down. Plate 11. A section of the painting shows the word Vinci, outlined in white on the duplicate copy of this section. Experts should examine the Huntington painting to check whether my identification of Leonardo da Vinci as the artist who painted this picture is correct.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Livien Ven for pointing out the helical nature of hair curls and how they may indicate whether a painter is right or left handed. I also want to thank my daughter Karen for pointing out the glass orb, something I missed completely. Finally I want to thank my daughter Erica for designing my web site and making it a pleasure to look at.