Some Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci at The British Museum: Original and Spurious


There is probably not a museum or gallery that could claim that there was not a fake or forgery sitting amongst genuine artefacts in their otherwise priceless collections. In 2005, Paul Craddock of the British Museum, went as far as to say that many of the antiquities for sale in Britain were either stolen or counterfeit. Even Dr Craddock’s own institution fell victim to a forgery, when a crystal skull (purchased in 1897) was found to be not of Aztec origin, but a product manufactured in nineteenth-century Europe. Furthermore, just a brief survey of their collection of drawings by the Renaissance polymath, Leonardo da Vinci uncovers etchings both genuine and spurious. 

Images: Leonardo da VInci, A Bust of a Warrior in Profile, 1475-1480, silverpoint, on cream prepared paper, 287mm x 211mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

A man blowing a trumpet into the ear of a nude man, and two seated men, 1467-1519, pen and brown ink over stylus sketch, 258mm x 193mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum.

A kneeling angel, turned to front, his right arm raised, 1467-1519, pen and brown ink over leadpoint, 124mm x 61mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum.

Head of a balding man in profile to right,  1467-1519, red chalk, 101mm x 73mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

Studies for the Virgin and Child with St Anne and the infant Baptist, and some studies of machinery, 1467-1519, pen and brown ink, with grey wash, heightened with white, over black chalk, indented for transfer Verso: Variant of recto group, and man’s head in profile to right black chalk, and the group transferred from recto, 265mm x 195mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum

Studies of horsemen for the Battle of Anghiari; including one charging with a spear at top, 1467-1519, pen and brown ink Verso: A man lunging, with right leg extended, black chalk, 82mm x 120mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

Studies of six figures including an old man leaning on a stick, and a head in profile,1467-1519, pen and brown ink Verso: An allegory with Fortune Pen and brown ink and metalpoint, on pink prepared paper, 166mm x 266mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Virgin and Christ Child with a cat, 1467 – 1519, pen and brown ink, over stylus underdrawing Verso: The same subject in reverse Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over stylus underdrawing, 130mm x 94mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

Forgery in the Manner of Leonardo da Vinci, Sheet of studies of heads, some classical; including the half-length figure of a girl in profile to right, 1900-1946,  pen and grey-brown ink, on very thin paper, 502mm x 307mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

Forgery in the Manner of Leonardo da Vinci, Sheet of figure studies and heads; including the Virgin and Child and with lions’ heads below, 1900-1946, pen and grey ink, on very thin, buff paper, 515mm x 312mm, The British Museum, London. Copyright © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum. 

References: Louise Jury, “Art market scandal: British Museum expert highlights growing problem of fake antiquities.” In The Independent, 14 May, 2005. 

Frank Zöllner and Johannes Nathan, Leonardo da Vinci: The Graphic Work, Cologne: Taschen, 2014. 

Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson. 

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