December 18, 2008
Three near-invisible drawings discovered on back of Da Vinci masterpiece
Adam Sage in Paris
The French art world is in a frenzy of speculation today after the strange discovery of three almost invisible drawings on the back of a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre museum.
The mysterious sketches, which were found when the painting, Virgin and Child With Saint Anne, was taken down for experts to determine whether it could be restored, may be by the Renaissance artist himself, according to the museum in Paris.
Although the discovery is reminiscent of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, art experts said that the drawings would not have contained a hidden message from the painter.
They say that Da Vinci sketched out his ideas on whatever came to hand, and might have used the planks of poplar wood that formed the backing for the work, which dates from the 1500s.
If he were confirmed as the author, the drawings could help to give an exact date to the work, which is often considered as his artistic testament.
They were detected in September after Sylvain Laveissière, a curator at the Louvre, noticed that some of the grey marks behind Virgin and Child With Saint Anne resembled a horse's head.
A photograph with an infrared camera in the Louvre's laboratory confirmed his suspicion and found two other sketches invisible to the naked human eye next to the horse's head.
These were of a human skull and of the infant Jesus with a Lamb — a drawing reminiscent of the celebrated painting on the other side of the popular boards.
"They were not meant to be kept," said Bruno Mottin, a specialist at the Louvre's art laboratory. "They had been largely wiped out, which explains why no one had notived them until now."
The Louvre said in a statement: "This is an exceptional discovery as sketches on backs of works are very rare and there is no known example of one from Leonardo to this day."