John Brewer: Saturday

The charismatic art historian told the fascinating tale of  La Belle Ferronniere, possibly the work of Leonardo da Vinci and perhaps not.  It is an exquisite work and I am sure that I was not alone in hoping that they would be a grand reveal proving the painting’s provenance.

Alas no, but what we got instead was an insiders eye view of the world of art authentication and how the process weaves itself around the economic fortunes of the wider world.  Science plays an ever increasing role and there is the ‘eye’; the ability of the aficionado to spot an artist’s signature in the architecture of a model’s ear or the line of the fingers in a resting had.  There remains a strange alchemy to the process and that is something that the art world endorses.  We learnt also that when doubt is cast on a painting it’s value may forever be affected by residual uncertatinty even if the experts agree.  With regard to La Belle Ferronierre the experts don’t agree and the work remains ‘tainted’ by the celebrated court case in the States the 1920s after it was labelled as a copy by art expert Sir Joseph Duveen, and its the owner Mrs Andrée Lardoux Hahn, sued for defamation.

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