It could also be the artist’s first self-portrait.
A 15th-century tile painting of the archangel Gabriel is now considered the first work by Leonardo da Vinci. Signed in 1471 by the artist himself, who would have then been 18 years old, this unique find was discovered and announced by Ernesto Solari, a world-renowned Leonardian scholar.
It is a 20 x 20 cm square ceramic tile on which the artist painted an image of the Archangel Gabriel, most likely fired by Leonardo in his grandfather’s kiln in Bacchereto (Tuscany).
The image shows the profile of a young man with thick curls, a golden aura framing his head, and peacock-like feathered wings. Even if this is clearly the image of an archangel, Solari explains this could also be the first self-portrait of the Renaissance genius.
One can read the signature “Leonardo da Vinci” from left to right on the face of the archangel, although partially “camouflaged” on the jaw, together with the date “1471” and a combination of letters and numbers under the name “Leonardo.” On the lower edge of the square one also finds the initials “LDV.”
Not all Leonardo experts agree with Solari. As reported in The Guardian, the leading scholar Martin Kemp, of the University of Oxford, compared the angel’s hair to pasta. “The handling of the hair is spectacularly unconvincing—it looks like vermicelli,” the scholar told the British newspaper. “The chances of its being by Leonardo are less than zero. The silly season for Leonardo never closes.” According to Kemp, the piece is a 19th-century falsification instead.
In any case, the small tile will be exhibited until September 30, 2018, at the Leonardo da Vinci Experience Museum, located in the Via della Conciliazione, the main Roman street leading to the Vatican.