Nova (1974–…): Season 39, Episode 12 - Mystery of a Masterpiece - full transcript

NOVA meets a new breed of experts who are approaching "cold case" art mysteries as if they were crime scenes, determined to discover "who committed the art," and follows art sleuths as they deploy new techniques to combat the multi-billion dollar criminal market in stolen and fraudulent art.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
He is perhaps the greatest
artist of all time,

a talent so unique even
his notebooks are worth

tens of millions of dollars.

Leonardo da Vinci, the genius
who painted the Mona Lisa,

whose rare finished works
are among the treasures

of the Western world.

So imagine getting
your hands

on a previously unknown portrait
by Leonardo.

A work like this-- a profile
of a mysterious young woman.

If it really is a Leonardo,

it could be worth a hundred
million dollars.

But first, you would have
to prove it's authentic...

I don't have any doubt
that it is by Leonardo da Vinci.

...and counter the opinions
of skeptics.

This drawing does not seem

to have any chance
of being by Leonardo.

Now, independent investigators
will try to determine

whether this portrait
is real or fake--

the work of some unknown artist
of the past

or a true Leonardo.

They'll search for clues,

probing deep beneath the layers
of pigment,

recreating the composition
with original materials

and even digging
into the mysteries

surrounding the young woman

and the creation
of her portrait.

Surprising new finds--

an unexpected fingerprint,
a scar left by a knife...

The knife, which has been
cutting down this edge,

suddenly it slipped.

...may unlock
the "Mystery of a Masterpiece."

Right now on this NOVA/National
Geographic special.

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provided by the following...

Supporting NOVA and promoting
public understanding of science.

And the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting

and by PBS viewers like you.

Additional funding
from Lockheed Martin.

Inspiring tomorrow's engineers
and technologists.

And Millicent Bell, through:

It was an image that appeared
out of nowhere.

But it now may be worth
a hundred million dollars.

The reason is simple.

This portrait may be a work

by one of the greatest masters
of all, Leonardo da Vinci.

The story begins in New York
on January 30, 1998.

Christie's auction house holds
its annual sale

of work by old masters.

One of the items is
an unusual piece:

a profile of a young woman,

drawn in chalk, on stretched
animal skin-- known as vellum--

and glued to an oak panel.

It's more like a painting
than a drawing.

Christie's lists it
as a German work

from the early 19th century.

(auctioneer speaking
in background)

Art collector Peter Silverman
has flown to New York from Paris

to be in town for the sale.

He makes his living
finding bargains

and turning them for a profit,

and he thinks Christie's might
have made an enormous mistake.

I said to myself,
"This is really good.

I don't understand why it's
cataloged as 19th century."

The first reaction is, "Well,
maybe this is a discovery."

What it was, I wasn't sure,

but I was sure it was
not 19th century

and I was sure that it was

either a fake, completely,
or Italian.

If it is older and Italian,

it will be worth many times more
than Christie's price.

Silverman leaves a bid,
but he doesn't go high enough.

So I left a bid
in the auction house

of, I think, $16,000 or $18,000.


Any more bids?

Thank you, sir.

The drawing sells
for just under $22,000.

Peter Silverman misses
his chance.

I never thought I would
see her again.

No, I didn't think so.

Because things disappear
into collections or vaults

and things like that.

But nine years later,

Peter Silverman does see
the drawing again

in a gallery on East 73rd Street

owned by a prominent dealer
named Kate Ganz.

It's a second chance he's not
about to let slip by.


Things just exploded in my mind
and my heart and I said,

"My God."

I couldn't believe my luck.

And I asked Kate,
"What's the price?"

She said, "$22,000."

I didn't hesitate.

"Price, this price, fine,
take it," and that's done.

It's wrapped up in an envelope,
and you put it under your arm

and you walk away with it just
like in the department store.


Like a Vuitton bag
or a pack of oranges.

Back in Paris, Silverman begins
to show off his latest purchase.

Some art experts who see it say
the work is unusual

and probably is genuine

As they examine it closely,

a radical idea begins
to take hold--

what if this portrait is not
just a Renaissance work,

but one by a great master
like Leonardo da Vinci?

Just breathing the name

is like lobbing a bombshell
into the staid world of art.

Perhaps the most intriguing
figure in all of art,

Leonardo da Vinci lived
from 1452 to 1519.

His boundless curiosity about
science, natural history

and the arts
personified the Renaissance.

But very few of his paintings

In all the museums in the world,

there are only about
a dozen paintings

accepted as being
from the master's hand.

There are very few
Leonardos around.

What he did was always
so extraordinary--

the manual gifts,
the composition,

the visual subtlety.

They just have extraordinary

and we're only just
understanding fully what he did.

And now, Peter Silverman is
coming to believe

that a rare and extremely
valuable Leonardo

has fallen into his lap.

Well, tell me now.

You can tell me, I'm listening.

If he's right,

he stands to pocket
not just thousands,

but millions of dollars.

But first he's got to prove
beyond a doubt

that Leonardo himself
drew the portrait.

When it comes to a work of art,
what does proof mean?

The portrait is not signed.

There's no record
of its existence anywhere.

Proving it as Leonardo's work
means making a case

on three fronts: artistic,
historical, scientific.

But Silverman faces
a formidable challenge;

the art critics
are deeply divided.

He contacts Martin Kemp,

one of the world's most
influential Leonardo scholars.

Kemp agrees to look
at the portrait for no fee.

We can do a journey
round the image

and we can look for
a variety of things,

but obviously you are
looking for signs

that this is a work of
extraordinary quality.

His expert eye is immediately
drawn to details,

like the headband and the ribbon
holding back her hair,

visible in this super-high
resolution image.

If you look, for instance,
at the band,

that goes across
at the right angle,

and then at the back, it pulls
this little dip in the hair.

Leonardo always had
that wonderful feeling

for the stuffness of materials,

for how they react
under pressure.

The fine work around the eye.

This is enormously magnified.

You can see these
little tiny marks,

which must almost be done
with a one-hair brush

or something like that.

And that lower lid,
just look at that,

the two little lashes there.

The more he looks,

the more he believes this
is a previously undiscovered

Leonardo da Vinci.

But others are much less
impressed than Kemp.

This drawing

does not seem to me to have any
chance of being by Leonardo.

David Ekserdjian is one
of many scholars

who fail to see da Vinci's
genius at work in the piece.

It doesn't correspond
to his artistic practice,

and actually I don't think
in point of quality

it compares at all favorably
with anything made by him.

My personal hunch is that
this one, over time,

will, as they say,
sink without trace.

Even Martin Kemp is
far from 100% sure.

Having had this extraordinary
sort of feeling

that there's something
very special about this,

you keep resisting that, because
you can get carried away,

and then you start seeing
what you want to see.

So, all the time, you're sort
of pulling down and saying,

"Hold on a minute," you know,
"Don't go there.

Don't get there."

With art historians divided,

Silverman knows he needs
to build a forensic case,

so he turns
to Giammarco Cappuzzo,

an Italian art specialist
living in Paris.

He told me that he had
a painting by Leonardo.

And I said to him,
"Look, are you joking?

"Are you feeling well?

I mean, is everything okay
with you?"

Cappuzzo knows the questions
will begin

at a very basic level.

They will ask you,

"Why do you think that it could
be a Leonardo?

"Why do you think that it's not
19th century?

Why do you think that it's not
a fake or a copy?"

And you have to prove
to these people

that it's not 19th century.

So the first obvious question:
how old is it?

In particular, what is the age
of the animal skin--

the vellum--
the portrait is drawn on?

When I saw the painting, I said,
"First thing is the vellum."

Because if the vellum is not
of Renaissance period,

I will forget it.

Cappuzzo takes a sample
from the portrait

to have its age determined
through a process

known as carbon-14 dating.

All plants absorb carbon atoms
from the atmosphere.

Carbon comes in many forms,

including a radioactive type
called carbon-14.

Animals take in carbon-14
by eating plants.

After they die, the amount
of carbon-14 in their bodies

begins to decay
at a predictable rate.

By measuring how much carbon-14
is still present in the remains,

scientists can estimate how long
ago the animal died.

In Silverman's case, the drawing
is on vellum or animal skin,

and this will give a good idea
of how old the vellum is.

When the results come back,

they point not to the 19th
century but to the Renaissance.

They estimate there is a more
than 95% probability

that the vellum dated
from the years 1440 to 1650.

Leonardo lived from 1452
to 1519.

So the age of the vellum
overlaps Leonardo's life.

But does that prove,

that the drawing on the vellum
is by Leonardo da Vinci?

Not by a long shot.

Fakers routinely use
old materials

to fool both art experts
and scientists

into thinking something is
genuine when it's not.

Leo Stevenson knows all about
such tricks.

He makes his living by painting

in the style
of the great masters.

He's not a forger, but he knows
all the secrets of their craft.

Stevenson's home looks
like a museum;

it's filled with art that seems
to be from different eras

and different artists.

But Stevenson himself
painted every one.

Now, he prepares to sacrifice
a recent purchase,

worth about a hundred dollars,

to create a new fake
in the style of Claude Monet.

A really good forger has to have
the right materials.

If we are doing a late 19th
century canvas,

it has to be on a late 19th
century canvas.

This is a rather bad continental
picture of the 1890s,

but what I want it for is mainly
for the back.

And this shows it has

an authentic maker's stamp,
authentic stretcher,

authentic condition.

So if somebody sees this,

if you fool the eye,
you'll fool the mind.

And the idea is to repaint
this canvas

to represent something far more
valuable than it is,

and you've fooled somebody.

So, this has existed
for 120 years.

We are now going to remove it.

Stevenson uses
methylene chloride--

that's paint stripper--
to dissolve the original.

This doesn't feel right,

as one artist destroying,

the work of another artist.

It is sort of morally wrong.

But if we're going to do this
exercise correctly,

this is what a forger would do.

So, now we have a canvas

as Monet would have expected it
to look.

Now we have to do
the difficult bit.

Like any con man,

a forger's success depends
on finding eager victims.

A forger is a trickster.

He is using a person's

If somebody believes something
to be real,

or they want it to be, or they
expect it to be, he's in there.

He will try to fool that person.

He spends about 40 hours
painting his fake Monet.

This is yours for two or three
million dollars,

if you're daft enough.

There are lots of forgeries
out there.

There are some paintings that
are attributed to artists

they shouldn't be.

There are some outright fakes
that have been made

from scratch, like this, out
there with major brand names

attached to them, like Monet,
and they're not the real deal.

Every year, collectors
unknowingly spend

millions of dollars on works
of art that are counterfeit.

FBI agent Jim Wynne usually has
these paintings locked away

in a secure evidence room.

All of them were acquired

during Wynne's art fraud

This is a painting by Gauguin...


It had been consigned
by a dealer to Christie's.

This fake Gauguin sold
for over $400,000.

These two Chagalls
are identical fakes.

These sold for in excess
of $500,000 each.

Turn them around, there are
certain things on the back

that are important
to establish authenticity.

Auction stamps, signatures.

Even stains.

All fake.

If the original was here it
would be exactly like that,

it would have the stains.

It would have the signature, the
sizing, everything identical.

And this is all done to deceive.

It's all done to try and
establish the authenticity

of these fakes.

In the case of the portrait
of the girl,

the first scientific test,
carbon dating,

proved the vellum it was drawn
on was from the Renaissance.

But is the drawing itself
as old as the vellum?

Or is it a modern fake?

Giammarco Cappuzzo now takes the
portrait and Peter Silverman

across Paris for another test.

The piece is not so big,
so it was inside an envelope,

and (clicks tongue),
went inside.

I said, "Giammarco, please be
careful, drive carefully.

"You have here perhaps

"a potentially $100 million

so if you have an accident,
you'll never be forgiven."

If Silverman has any hope
of seeing a value

as high as $100 million,
he'll need a lot more proof.

So Cappuzzo heads for a lab
on the Boulevard Saint Germain

run by a world-class expert
in art imaging.

His name is Pascal Cotte,

and he has invented
a special camera

capable of taking photographs
with resolutions

as high as 240 million pixels.

The camera can also probe
beneath the surface

of the artwork to reveal secrets
about its composition.

The Louvre Museum even invited
Cotte to examine

one of its most valuable
treasures: Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

Cotte used special data from
his study of the masterpiece

to digitally strip away
centuries of tarnish

and calculate the intensity
and mix of its original colors;

a virtual cleansing
and restoration,

revealing the Mona Lisa as
Leonardo would have painted her.

Now, Cotte applies
those same techniques

to the portrait of the girl.

He starts with super-high
resolution photos

that enable him to magnify
an image hundreds of times

without losing quality.

Details, like the texture
of her hair,

appear with the click
of a mouse.

Cotte's camera has
another feature.

It uses a rainbow of filters
to reveal parts of the portrait

completely invisible
to the naked eye.

(speaking French)

PASCAL COTTE (translated):
What's interesting are
the infrared filters.

They have the ability
to penetrate

inside the coat of the paint.

One of the most innovative
things about this camera

is that there are three
infrared filters,

giving us three levels of depth.

Cotte's rotating filters divide
the image into 13 layers.

Each layer shows
what can be seen

under different wavelengths
of light.

Different wavelengths reveal
different details.

The most useful images
from Cotte's camera

are those from the infrared
end of the scale.

Here, the pen and ink lines
covered over by the chalk

become visible.

In the portrait of the girl,
infrared reveals changes made

during the process
of composition.

COTTE (translated):
You can see here, on the chin,

there are some alterations.

The most important changes were
made on the forehead.

They become visible
with the infrared image.

We can see clearly
he has actually changed

the outline of the profile.

Cotte compares the revisions

evident under the surface of
the portrait to those found

in a sketch everyone agrees
is by Leonardo:

Portrait of a Woman in Profile,

from the British Royal

On the sketch,

Leonardo's alterations can
be seen with the naked eye.

And Cotte finds that the changes
made to the sketch

are strikingly similar
to changes to the portrait,

visible only in infrared images.

COTTE (translated):
Here around the neck
we find a small revision.

There are alterations
on both chins,

a change to both foreheads,
and on both necks.

The same alterations
in the same places.

So, the habits of drawing
are consistent.

For Cotte, these signs
of similar alterations

are more than just coincidence;

they're an argument
for both portraits

being by the same hand.

But couldn't another
Renaissance artist,

heavily influenced
by da Vinci's technique,

have drawn the portrait?

Scholar Cristina Geddo
studies the artists

employed by Leonardo
in his workshop.

These are artists strongly
influenced by Leonardo,

but at the same time they are
easy to identify.

This drawing is
by Giovanni Boltraffio,

one of Leonardo's prot?g?s.

GEDDO (translated):
The only artist who compares
to Leonardo

in terms of quality
is Boltraffio.

But his way of drawing
is very different.

Geddo has seen
the mysterious portrait

and she notes a telling feature

Martin Kemp and others
had noticed too.

The pen marks used to create
shading around the face

are sloping in an unusual

Typical of something rare
in the Renaissance:

an artist using his left hand.

A right-hander will do it
that direction;

a left-hander will naturally
do it in that direction.

No artist is better known
for being left-handed

than Leonardo da Vinci.

All of Leonardo's disciples
are right-handed;

none of them work
with the left hand.

Boltraffio's right-handed pen
strokes differ clearly

from the left-handed marks

so obvious in the mysterious

If the drawing is not
by Leonardo himself,

it is the work of someone trying
very hard to fake, or copy,

his particular
left-handed style.

Pascal Cotte continues to search
through the image,

looking for more clues
of Leonardo's technique,

when suddenly he finds something
completely different.

I discover on the top of
the portrait, I discover that.

On the upper left-hand corner
of the portrait,

a faint but very definite

Could this be the final proof?

There are fingerprints
all over Leonardo's work.

Using his hands to spread paint

was one way he achieved
his signature style.

The Ginevra de'Benci
in Washington

is smothered in hand
and fingerprints.

Cecilia Gallerani has got them,

the unfinished early St. Jerome
in the Vatican has them.

Is it possible

that the fingerprint could place
Leonardo at the scene?

An analysis will be performed

at the Institute of Criminology
and Criminal Law

in Lausanne, Switzerland,

where they specialize in
answering the question,

"Who done it?"

Here, students flock
to the classroom

of Professor Christophe Champod,

a master at fingerprint

Champod is brought in to analyze
the print Pascal Cotte found

on the vellum of the mysterious

and he quickly decides to ask
others for their opinions.

Champod posts the image--

on a Web site and invites
students and colleagues

to offer their analyses.

Forty-six examiners use
a color-coded software

to identify the characteristics
of the fingerprint

as they interpret them.

For a ridge, they draw lines.

For other aspects,
called minutia,

they use a different symbol.

If they are sure about a mark,
they u a solid line.

When they are less sure,
they use a dotted line.

The verdict on the 500-year-old
print is conclusive.

If you overlay all
the annotation

from all of these examiners

that's the sort of pattern
you obtain.

They are all dotted.

There is very limited

which has been declared as
to be reliable on this image.

The written comments are clear.

The mark is declared to be
of no value, cannot be used.

(quoting comment in French)

"I consider this mark as being
of no value; I cannot use it."

He has a few ridges,
which are a reality,

but there is no selectivity
associated with these two ridges

because we have ridges
everywhere on our opulary lines.

This is not a rare feature
at all.

This is a feature you will find
on anyone's fingerprint.

I would find an association
with anyone.

I would find an association
with you.

Because the amount of
information is so limited.

The partial fingerprint proves
to be a dead end.

And in the art world,
doubts continue.

Many do not believe the portrait
reflects Leonardo's mastery.

The extent to which this
particular work of art

has divided opinion
I think is quite unusual.

I don't believe this drawing
is by Leonardo.

I am absolutely not alone
in that opinion.

Martin Kemp, the Oxford
art historian,

knows his reputation
is on the line.

He'll have to build
a more convincing case.

Kemp asks artist Sarah Simblet,

professor at the Ruskin School
of Fine Art in Oxford

and a world-renowned
drawing instructor,

to attempt a recreation,
using techniques and materials

similar to the original.

The choices that Leonardo
would have had

would have been between
sheep, goat, and calf.

The calf comes out thicker,
and it gives you

a much smoother, creamier
surface to work with.

Kemp is hoping Simblet's efforts
will help him understand

the unusual choice of chalk
on vellum used in the portrait--

typical of Leonardo's restless
experimenting with techniques,

or a tip-off that it's a fake?

So you can see here

the whole shape
of the animal still.

Up at this end, then,
it's very much thicker,

because there's more fat
in the animal.

It's in the nature
of scientific evidence

that 90% of it can be right,
and if 10% of it's wrong,

the whole thing collapses.

So, all the way along,
you're thinking,

"One thing can emerge which
will collapse the whole thing."

So you always have to be
looking for that,

and as soon as you
don't look for it,

then you can get carried away.

As Simblet works her way
through the process,

staining the vellum,
testing the ink,

and tracing the lines
of the portrait,

she begins to appreciate what it
took to create the drawing.

It's clear to me
that this has been made

by an exceptional draftsperson,

someone who can draw

As an anatomy teacher myself,

I can see that the person
who made this drawing

understood about the development
of the skull, for example.

The nose is very small
in relation to the ear,

which indicates that the facial
bones haven't finished growing.

Also the degree of curvature
on the eye.

The person who has drawn
this eye understands

that the eyeball is elevated
in the socket

and that you're actually only
seeing the lower quarter

of the curvature of the ball.

If it's not done by Leonardo,
then it's done by another artist

who shares his knowledge
of anatomy.

In order to learn human anatomy,

Leonardo dissected corpses

and drew the exposed sinew,

muscle and bone
in astonishing detail.

His studies brought new
scientific realism

to his portraits
of living people.

To color the drawing,

Sarah Simblet makes
her own chalk

from a variety of minerals,
rich in natural pigments.

Her biggest technical challenge

is to get the chalk to stick to
the vellum without blowing off.

(blows on the painting)

That raises an important point:

there are no other works
by Leonardo on vellum.

That's a problem for those
who believe the portrait

is a Leonardo.

An unknown work done
with unusual materials

makes the skeptics
doubly suspicious.

To make the chalk
stay on the vellum,

Simblet will use two kinds
of binder:

one made from tree sap,
and another from egg whites.

The whole point of the binder
mixed into the pigment

is actually to make
the pigments stick

to the surface of the vellum
and not just blow straight off.

And you can see even as I'm
using it, it's inconsistent.

There are places where
it will suddenly come out

with a great splurge,

and then other places where it's
barely, barely making a mark.

Maybe the pink will work
on top of the white.


Slightly, very slightly.

I mean, an alternative would be,
if we can't get this to stick,

would be to grind up a little
of this pigment

and actually put it down
directly with my fingertips.

There's no reason why Leonardo
couldn't have actually applied

the colored chalks
with his fingertips.

Yes! That works.

We'll crack this eventually.

It's been exciting to see
how this very strong,

very magical, very beautiful
piece of work has been made

out of such complicated process

using materials that don't
naturally go together at all.

For some, the unusual and
experimental mix of materials

is one more point in favor
of Leonardo.

(Geddo speaking Italian)

We know Leonardo was an amazing

So much so that he failed,

Leonardo's experiments sometimes
got him into trouble.

When painting the Last Supper
in a monastery in Milan,

da Vinci went against
centuries of custom

by developing a special binder
that allowed him to paint

directly onto a dry wall,
rather than on wet plaster.

But his experiment failed.

Within 20 years, visitors
to the monastery were reporting

that the images of Jesus
and his disciples

were already flaking away.

The chalk-on-vellum technique
used in the mysterious portrait

is just as daring.

GEDDO (translated):
Who better than Leonardo

could have imagined something
like this?

Who could have created
an artwork

using such an absolutely
experimental technique?

I personally can't think
of a single other work of art,

single other drawing
I've ever come across,

that possesses this particular

of materials and techniques
with this sort of result.

Sarah Simblet's experiment
confirms the masterful technique

needed to produce the portrait.

And skeptics have not come up
with an alternative.

What other left-handed artists
in the Renaissance

could have done it?

And Pascal Cotte's
photographic detective work

into other parts of the portrait
invisible to the naked eye

reveals remarkable similarities
to known Leonardo works.

Still, Martin Kemp knows
he needs more positive proof.

He decides to take a different
tack and shifts his efforts

to try and identify the girl.

Who was she?

And why was her portrait done?

Kemp focuses on one feature

that might pinpoint where
the girl lived and when--

her hair.

Elisabetta Gnignera
studies hairdos

of the Italian Renaissance.

Gnignera recognizes
the long, bound ponytail

as a particular style
called a coazzone,

and she can trace the coazzone

to a specific time, place,
and even royal family.

GNIGNERA (translated):
In 1491, Beatrice d'Este

brought the coazzone hairstyle
here to the Sforza court

in Milan and it became
an absolute must.

During the Renaissance,

Milan was one of the most
formidable city-states

in Europe.

For 20 years, it was ruled
by a family called the Sforzas.

Ludovico Sforza was the most
powerful man in Milan.

When his wife adopted
the coazzone style,

the ladies of the court
followed fashion.

(speaking Italian)

We have written reports that the
hairstyle is in the Sforza court

from 1491 to 1497 or '99
at the latest.

It so happens Leonardo da Vinci
was living in Milan

at exactly that time.

From 1482 to 1499,
he served Ludovico Sforza,

his greatest patron,
as an artist and engineer.

Many of his most famous
portraits were of people

linked to Ludovico, including
a court musician and a mistress.

Was the woman
in the mysterious drawing

also connected
to Ludovico Sforza?

Based on the hairstyle,
Gnignera says yes.

(speaking Italian)

It seems to me the woman
in the portrait

was an important person,

probably linked
to the Sforza family.

But who could that person be?

Kemp generates a list
of possible suspects.

You end up with relatively
few candidates.

Beatrice, Ludovico's wife,
would be a candidate.

She has a very distinctive
jaw line,

which is quite different from
the jaw line in this portrait.

There's Bianca Maria,
she is Ludovico's niece,

and she has a very
characteristic face,

um, and not a very
appealing one.

Then, looking around the Sforza
court histories,

there was somebody who'd
virtually been ignored.

And that was Bianca,
his illegitimate daughter.

Histories reveal that Bianca,

the illegitimate daughter
of the powerful Ludovico Sforza,

would have been about
the right age

for the girl in the portrait.

She was married
when she was probably 13.

She married Galeazzo

who is the commander
of Ludovico's forces,

an important man in Milan.

Bianca Sforza died just four
months after her wedding,

possibly from
a troubled pregnancy.

Now, Martin Kemp's research
is bringing Bianca Sforza

back to life.

She has the right hairstyle,

she's a member of Milan's inner
circle during Leonardo's time,

and she is the daughter
of da Vinci's patron.

In her honor, Kemp decides
to give the portrait a name:

La Bella Principessa,
"The Beautiful Princess."

It's an exciting idea, but
important questions remain.

If the portrait was painted
by Leonardo

for his rich and powerful

why was there no record of
this "principessa" anywhere--

no copies by Leonardo's

no listing in a royal inventory?

If Kemp can't trace
the portrait's history,

he's at another dead end.

But in his laboratory in Paris,

imaging expert Pascal Cotte
discovers some unusual marks

that suggest where
the portrait came from.

Along the left side,

signs of someone using
a knife to cut the vellum.

We can pick up at one point
where the knife,

which has been cutting down this
edge, and suddenly it slipped.

Look, you see there,
slipped across

and they've probably slipped
across twice and then gone back

to cutting it the right way.

And Cotte picks up another
critical clue:



three holes in the vellum.

Cotte passes his findings
on to Martin Kemp,

and Kemp begins to piece
together a theory.

What if the three holes came
from the kind of stitching

used in books?

That might explain
the knife cut,

a scar left by someone cutting
out a single page.

It's an idea that solves
some problems for Kemp.

It explains why the portrait
is on vellum,

why there are no accounts of
the portrait hanging on a wall,

and why it wasn't listed
among Leonardo's works.

As a page in a book,

it would have been shut
between the covers

and fated to disappear
onto a shelf.

But why would Bianca Sforza's
portrait be placed in a book?

And what book would it be?

My hypothesis at this stage

is that it was in a volume
of poetry dedicated to Bianca,

the illegitimate daughter
of Ludovico,

probably on the occasion
of her wedding in 1496.

And that it would have been,
uh, maybe a frontispiece

or something which
was very striking.

Kemp and Cotte are so convinced,
they publish a book,

including Cotte's photographs
and technical analyses

and Kemp's theories-- that it is
a missing work by Leonardo,

a portrait of Bianca Sforza,

and that it must have been
a page in a book

celebrating her wedding.

But Kemp's argument fails
to convince the skeptics.

There has been the suggestion

that this drawing was part
of some sort

of commemorative volume.

I confess that I am not aware

of their being commemorative
volumes of this kind,

which include drawings.

A series of e-mails,
from D.R. Edward Wright,

a professor of art history from
the University of South Florida,

tells Kemp that there
is something

in the National Library
in Poland

he might want to take a look at.

It's a break in the case
that will send Kemp and Cotte

to Warsaw and put doubters
on the defensive.

If you are able to find

a commemorative book
which identified this woman

as being the woman
she is meant to be

and placed the execution of
the book at the correct period,

that's to say the period
of her life in Milan,

and let's say that the holes
in the vellum

of the other pages of the book
absolutely corresponded,

then I think you'd have to agree

that the drawing belonged
to the book.

If I were the possessor of a
hat, and all of that happened,

I'd be reasonably willing
to get out the salt and pepper

and eat it.

Wright's e-mails to Kemp are
pointing to just such a book:

a history of the Sforza family
called the Sforziada--

500 years old, printed on vellum
and, historians agree,

created to commemorate
the wedding of Bianca Sforza.

The book may have come to Warsaw
after Bianca's death,

carried here
by a Sforza princess

who married the king of Poland
in 1518.

Now, Martin Kemp
and Pascal Cotte

are at the Polish National

eager to see if this book might
provide a missing piece

of the Leonardo puzzle.

They want to find out: is there
a page missing from the book?

If there is, how will they be
able to tell which page?

The answer is in the way
books are put together.

Books are assembled in sections:

long sheets folded,
gathered one inside another,

and sewn together.

If a single page is cut,

the other half of the sheet
would fly free,

unless it were held
in place somehow.

Kemp believes if the portrait
was in the book,

it would have been placed
as a frontispiece,

near the full-page illumination.

He examines the ends
of the volume,

trying to trace the individual
sheets through the binding.

But it's difficult to tell
with the naked eye

where one sheet of vellum ends
and another begins.

So Pascal Cotte will use a
special camera with a macro lens

to take a series of photographs

enabling him to trace
individual sheets.

Each photo concentrates its
focus on a specific point,

and a special software stitches
the photos together

to create one giant close-up.

Stuck together
like that.

The sections that make up
the Sforziada

come in three or four sheets.

Mapping the first section

that it is made up of three.

When folded together,

they should create
six double-sided pages.

But one sheet of vellum, the
first marked here in yellow,

never emerges from the other
side of the binding.

Unlike the others,
it has no match.

And, in a telling detail,

it's been glued
to the page next to it.

You can see very clearly
at the edge there,

how those two pages
are stuck together.


And this bottom page
then loops up.

Right, let's track that through.

Can we turn this over?

Tracing the path
of the remaining page,

they find out where the missing
page would have been:

at the front of the book,
right before the illumination.

Just as Martin Kemp had

That's where she
would have been.


But there is one more test,

and it could bring
the whole theory down:

do the three holes on the side
of the portrait

match the stitching in the book?

On Cotte's high-resolution
facsimile of the portrait,

the three holes are
clearly visible.

You can see the stitch marks
very clearly.

There are actually
five stitches in the book.

But according
to Polish archivists,

the Sforziada was rebound
centuries ago.

And it's believed two stitches
were added to the original three

in order to strengthen
the binding.

At the same time, the pages were
trimmed and the edges gilded.

Kemp and Cotte will compare
the portrait

to see if the three holes
line up

with the stitching in the book.

If they don't,

there is no way the portrait
came from this volume.

If they do, it will be strong
evidence for Martin Kemp's case

that the work is actually a
lost portrait of Bianca Sforza

by Leonardo da Vinci.

Now on the portrait, we've got
the marks down the edge here,

so what we're doing is matching
the position of the stitch marks

with the ones here.

And if you align the one
at this point, here,

if you align that,

then that one and that one fall
perfectly in line.

The three match these
absolutely immaculately.

Actually, it's fantastic.

Yes, it's fantastic.

Against all odds,

they seem to have found
in Poland

the very book Kemp imagined.

If you want to say, well, when
I came here I was thinking

that this is tolerably

that there was a 50% chance
of this being right,

I now am prepared, if put
into a corner, to say it's 80%.

Kemp will continue his quest
to fill in the gaps

as he traces the strange and
elusive journey of the portrait

of a young woman from
15th-century Milan.

But he has already uncovered
intriguing evidence

in the case for Leonardo.

For Peter Silverman,

the art collector who has
the most to gain,

it means he has
some thinking to do.

For now, the Bella Principessa
remains locked in a vault

in a secret Swiss location.

Silverman continues
to travel the world

in search of new discoveries.

When and where the portrait
will next see the light of day

depends on whether Kemp's
new findings tip the scales

in favor of Leonardo.

According to Silverman,

an offer for the Principessa
was recently made:

$80 million.

That offer, he says,
was declined.

Next time...

Scientists race to uncover
a 100,000-year-old mystery.

There was something about
this lake that was dangerous.

An ancient world
of fantastic creatures.

But why did so many die here?

If you were there at the wrong
time, something might kill you.

With only weeks remaining,
can the riddles be solved?

"Ice Age Death Trap,"
on NOVA.

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And by PBS viewers like you.

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Inspiring tomorrow's engineers
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And Millicent Bell, through:

The exploration continues
on NOVA's website,

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For more about
La Bella Principessa

see the February issue of
National Geographic magazine.

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on DVD.

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