News Switzerland

Lost painting attributed to Leonardo seized from Swiss bank vault

The portrait of Isabella d’Este, which Italian police have been trying to track down for over a year, was about to be sold for €120m

A portrait sketch of Isabella d’Este by Leonardo now in the Louvre, left, and the painting recovered from a Lugano bank vault

Swiss federal police, working with the Italian Carabinieri and financial police, have seized a long-lost painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci from the bank vault of a Lugano-based trust. The portrait of Isabella d’Este, the marchesa of Mantua and a leading patron of the Italian Renaissance, was due to be sold privately for €120m.

“We cannot release the names of any of those involved, nor that of the trust, because investigations are still ongoing,” says Antonino Raimondo, a colonel from the Pesaro financial police unit in the Marche region, where the investigation began, “but it has been a very timely operation thanks to the speed of response from the Swiss authorities. We recovered the work just in time: the transaction was in its final stages.”

The Italian authorities believe the work was illegally exported from Italy, although it is unclear when exactly. Italy has strict laws preventing the export of works of art more than 50 years old. It is being held by Swiss authorities and is due to be returned to Italy once its ownership is established.

The painting, missing for almost a year, was rediscovered by a stroke of luck. It was first discovered in August 2013, when Italy’s financial police received a tip-off that an unnamed lawyer in Pesaro was asked to sell the work for €95m. But when the police tried to recover it from the Swiss bank where it was being held, it had been moved and could not be traced. By coincidence, last summer, an insurance fraud investigation lead the authorities to learn further details about the painting, and it was tracked down to another bank vault in Lugano.

The work’s recovery will likely reignite the debate over its authenticity. The only other known portrait of Isabella d’Este is an almost identical sketch by Leonardo that now hangs in the Louvre, but scholars were never sure if a painted version existed. Isabella, the wife of Francesco Gonzaga II of Mantua, commissioned works by some of Italy’s greatest artists, including Titian, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo Da Vinci.

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17 Feb 15
20:20 CET


What does Prof Marking Kemp think? Everyone wants to find a Da Vinci, but is the brushwork his - or perhaps one of his students? A notorious non-finisher, did he do the sketch, then one of his workshop do the painting? Or is it a work by van Meegeren as Matthewe Baker suggests? We shall wait with baited breath.

16 Feb 15
17:23 CET


The only other known portrait of Quote - Isabella d’Este is an almost identical sketch by Leonardo that now hangs in the Louvre, but scholars were never sure if a painted version existed.Unquote. Now why does the name "Hans Van Meegeren" come to my mind?

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