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November 12, 2023

Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1510

The drawing is estimated to have been drawn c. 1510, possibly as a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. In 1839, it was acquired by King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. The assumption that the drawing is a self-portrait of Leonardo was made in the 19th century, based on the similarity of the sitter to the possible portrait of Leonardo as Plato in Raphael’s The School of Athens and on the high quality of the drawing, consistent with others by Leonardo. It was also decreed to be a self-portrait based on its likeness to the frontispiece portrait of Leonardo in Vasari’s second edition of The Lives of the Artists (1568). During World War II, the presumed self-portrait was temporarily moved from Turin to Rome to avoid being taken by the Nazis, becoming somewhat damaged in the process. In 2000, German art historian Frank Zöllner reflected that “This red chalk drawing has largely determined our idea of Leonardo’s appearance for it was long taken to be his only authentic self-portrait.”

The inscription at the bottom of the portrait, added by a later hand, reads: “Leonardo da Vinci, portrait of himself as an old man”.

Since the mid-to-late 20th century, the identification of the drawing as a self-portrait has been questioned. The claim that it represents Leonardo has been criticized by a number of Leonardo scholars and experts. A frequent criticism made in the late 20th century is that the drawing depicts a man of a greater age than Leonardo himself achieved, as he died at the age of 67 and allegedly made the drawing between the age of 58 and 60. It has been suggested that the sitter represents Leonardo’s father Piero da Vinci or his uncle Francesco, based on the fact they both had a long life and lived until the age of 80.

Da Vinci would learn most of his skills as a draughtsman whilst studying under Andrea del Verrocchio. It was here that he worked his way up, from apprentice to fully fledged artist over a period of several years. He would be introduced to many different disciplines during his time here, with drawing being considered a fundamental skill which was essential to most other art forms.

The 1510s were significant within Da Vinci’s life as a draughtsman. It was then that he tried out a greater variety of mediums for his sketches. Often there would be tinted paper, which would roughly match the tones of his chalk. He continually looked for new challenges too, once he felt that he had mastered a particular genre.

Leonardo da Vinci’s self portrait would hold a considerable value, but any figure given by experts would have to be quite a wide range. It is highly unlikely that its present owners would ever choose to part with this important artwork, but also any price realized at auction would depend on the interested parties bidding on it.

Some have claimed that the piece might be worth as much as $100M, possibly more, when considering that it holds the image of the artist himself, and also is one of the most famous drawings that he ever produced, but ours is only an loose estimation and experts in the field would be much more qualified to value the piece themselves.


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