Martin Bailey reports in the Art Newspaper that infamous British art forger Shaun Greenhalgh has claimed authorship of a portrait thought by some to be by Leonardo da Vinci. The so-called Bella Principessa first came to light in 1998 at Christie’s, where it was listed as a nineteenth-century German drawing and sold for $22,000.

Ten years later, Leonardo expert Martin Kemp assigned the work to Leonardo, arguing that it represents Bianca Sforza, an illegitimate daughter of the Milanese Duke Ludovico. Kemp’s attribution, published in 2010, has been met with skepticism by some specialists, and recent discoveries by others have also failed to convince.

Greenhalgh, who was convicted in 2007 for a series of art forgeries, purports in his new book A Forger’s Tale that he drew the work at age 17, 

“I drew this picture in 1978 when I worked at the Co-op. The ‘sitter’ was based on a girl called Sally who worked on the checkouts… She was a bossy little bugger and very self-important.”

a claim that Kemp calls “hilarious” and “hugely unlikely” given that testing showed the use of chalk datable before the 17th century.

As forgers fake claims as well as artworks, Greenhalgh’s story should be approached with caution. Kemp and his co-author Pascal Cotte have published a coda to their 2010 book, arguing that the portrait was cut from a book known as the Warsaw Sforziad, a history of the Sforza family written at the end of the fifteenth century. 

La Bella Principessa, ink and chalk on vellum

Art forger Shaun Greenhalgh. Photo: PA

The Warsaw Sforziad

Reconstructing the Sforziad

Posted by Anne Leader

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