An unsigned portrait found in a historic French chateau has piqued the interest of historians who believe its subject may be Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and the artist who painted it may have been Leonardo da Vinci.
In 2018, a document dated 1874 was found in the Chateau de Valencay—which once belonged to the diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord—that detailed the existence of such a portrait. This spurred a hunt for the painting, which eventually led to its unearthing in the castle storeroom.
The painting is set to undergo many months of testing to verify its provenance and to ascertain the possibility of it being a true Leonardo. According to AFP, the painting’s wooden support appears too recent for the dates to align, though it’s entirely possible that the wood is an addition undergone during restorative work carried out in the late 19th century. A local archivist argues that the sitter resembles French philosopher Michel de Montaigne more than it does Macchiavelli. The chateau’s director Sylvie Giroux told the French outlet that it’s “not impossible” that this painting could be the Leonardo in question.
Researchers have sharpened their focus on the Renaissance master on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death earlier this year, and between a portrait of him, the nude Mona Lisa, and his potentially crippling “claw hand,” this has no doubt been a year for Leonardo discoveries. Meanwhile the whereabouts of the most closely scrutinized painting recently attributed to Leonardo, the $450-million Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), remain unknown—unless it’s about to go on view in Turin.