Leonardo da Vinci Painting Could Be Self-portrait at 18, Codebreaker Claims

The tile painting of an angel could be a self portrait by a teenage Leonardo da Vinci, according to an Italian professor who claims to have discovered a coded message from the artist.

The work is the latest discovery of a potentially lost da Vinci painting, although such hopeful discoveries end up debunked more often than not. If genuine, the angelic image could be something the Florentine polymath painted when he was just 18 years old.

What gave rise to the notion that da Vinci painted the work, and disguised himself as the Archangel Gabriel within it, is hidden writing in the figure's jawline. The writing, apparently visible after infrared tests, reads "Da Vinci Lionardo," along with the suspected date of authorship "1471," CNN reported.

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The work officially belongs to the descendants of an aristocratic family from Ravello, Italy, who discovered it while clearing out a property and sought to find out if it had any value. According to the family, the work has remained in their possession for generations, since 1499 when the duchess of Amalfi presented it to the house as a gift. Although suspecting it was valuable, the owners had no inkling that it is linked to arguably the Renaissance period's most famous artist.

Professor Ernesto Solari, who has inspected the work alongside handwriting expert Ivana Bonfantino, has confirmed that scientific tests date the clay on the tile to the 15th century and he has already declared the piece an invaluable part of Italy's "national heritage."

"We have done everything humanly possible to verify its provenance," Solari said at the painting's unveiling in Rome, according to The Telegraph. "Science has provided us with concrete evidence that this work is by Leonardo da Vinci."

An electronic "book" at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana library shows the Atlantic Code drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci, in downtown Milan March 23, 2009. A new work that could be the earliest known by the artist contains hidden writing, according to experts in Rome. Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

If true, Solari's belief in the work's legitimacy would make it both the earliest known da Vinci work and the earliest example of his signature. Researchers apparently also found the artist's initials, "LDV," in the painting's margins. Solari argued that the diminutive size of the signature and its clandestine nature were a deliberate attempt by da Vinci to maintain the custom of the day with regards to signing such works.

Bonfantino vouched for the veracity of the writing on the angel's face, claiming the date of authorship consistently resembled how Da Vinci' wrote. Notably the first numeral "1" is shorter than the others in "1471."

This is not entirely convincing, according to a top British expert on da Vinci, who dismissed the link with the artist outright.

"The chance of it being by Leonardo is less than zero," Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of art history at Oxford University told The Guardian. "The silly season for Leonardo never closes."

The professor claimed that the "vermicelli-like" hair on the figure was tough to reconcile with da Vinci's usual style and the work generally was a departure from the Italian master's usual attention to detail.

"The quality is not what you would expect from something that was supposedly painted just a year before The Annunciation," Kemp told the Telegraph, referring to the painting currently regarded as da Vinci's earliest work. "There is not a single painting by Leonardo in existence that he signed, although you can't say definitively that he never signed anything."

Leonardo da Vinci Painting Could Be Self-portrait at 18, Codebreaker Claims | Culture