A music professor has identified a new portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. The 500-year-old engraving, if verified, will be only the third known portrait of the Renaissance Master created during his lifetime.
The engraving was created by Marcantonio Raimondi in 1505, and has resided at the Cleveland Museum of Art since the 1930s, but the figure in in the 500-year-old image, which can be seen playing an instrument called the lira da braccio, was long thought to depict the Greek mythological figure of Orpheus, a prophet and musician.
That identification has now been thrown into question in an article for Cleveland Art magazine. Where Orpheus is traditionally depicted as a clean-shaven youth, the musician in the drawing is in his “late middle age, with a beard and centrally parted hair with long curls,” Ross Duffin, a music professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, wrote.
“This is serious and stands some chance of being right,” stated Leonardo da Vinci scholar Martin Kemp, who is a professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University and has written several books about Leonardo, in an e-mail to Live Science.
Initially there was only one known self-portrait of the artist, drawn in 1512 known to exist. A red chalk drawing of Leonardo was discovered in his Flight of Birds codex. In 1505, da Vinci would have been in his early 50s – a corresponding age to the figure in the engraving – and the drawing closely resembles a known portrait of Leonardo by Francisco Melzi created at the same time. Most importantly, Leonardo is also known to have played the lira da braccio.
“Leonardo was led in great repute to the Duke of Milan, who took much delight in the sound of the lira, so that he might play it,” art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote in 1550. “And Leonardo brought with him that instrument which he had made with his own hands, in great part of silver, in order that the harmony might be of greater volume and more sonorous in tone, with which he surpassed all the musicians who had come together there to play.”
The music professor speculates that Raimondi may have met Leonardo in Milan in 1506-1507 during a production of Orfeo, based on the myth of Orpheus. But Kempt isn’t entirely sold on that particular idea: “At this stage, I would say that it is temptingly possible but unproven.”