I read about La Bella Principessa on the plane in the National Geographic, and it interested me more than anything I've read in a long time. This purported 'lost' drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, in ink and coloured chalks on a sheet of vellum measuring only 330mmx39mm (it was reproduced in actual size in the magazine over a spread, like a centerfold), is a controversial find. Its origins and authenticity continue to be debated over by experts. The drawing is on a sheet of vellum which carbon-14 tests date to between 1440 and 1650, which coincides with the years in which da Vinci was working. The direction of the hatching shows that the artist was left-handed, as was Leonardo. The Renaissance-style garment is said to be accurately rendered, and is purportedly the portrait of Bianca Sforza, the teenage daughter of the Duke of Milan.The Portrait of Isabella d'Este (below), a chalk drawing on paper by Leonardo da Vinci, is the only profile drawn by the master.Reading the story made me think of my painting classes at NAFA. Our teacher Fern made us paint oils of radishes in claypots, which is quite different from sketching a doomed teenage bride in an Italian court I suppose, but still. Rembering those days reminded me of this passage from Brideshead Revisited, one of my favourite scenes:"One day in a cupboard we found a large japanned-tin box of oil-paints still in workable condition.
‘Mummy bought them a year or two ago. Someone told her that you could only appreciate the beauty of the world by trying to paint it. We laughed at her a great deal about it. She couldn’t draw at all, and however bright, the colour were in the tubes, by the time mummy had mixed them up, they came out a kind of khaki. Various dry, muddy smears on the palette confirmed this statement. ‘Cordelia was- always made to wash the brushes. In the end we all protested and made mummy stop.’"
And so Charles Ryder began to paint. I imagined the japanned-tin looked like this.