An 11-inch equestrian sculpture marketed as an original Leonardo da Vinci is heading to auction later this month with a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $50 million. The sculpture, titled Horse and Rider, is believed to depict Leonardo’s patron Charles d’Amboise, a French governor of Milan, and it will be sold by Guernsey’s auction house in New York City. According to a Guernsey’s press release, which was accompanied by a 112-page catalogue for the work, the sculpture was cast from a beeswax model carved by Leonardo circa 1508. Dr. Carlo Pedretti, a Renaissance scholar who has written scores of books on Leonardo, noted that: “In my opinion, this wax model is by Leonardo himself.” However, other scholars are less certain.
Art historian Martin Kemp told Bloomberg that the work seems “not credible as a Leonardo sculpture,” and that it “has none of the characteristics of understanding horse anatomy and Renaissance armor that you would expect from Leonardo.”
Francesco Caglioti, an art history professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Tuscany had strong reservations as well, telling Bloomberg:
Sometimes a work is so ridiculous and impossible that a scholar like me feels authorized to speak. [. . .] This thing has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with Leonardo. I can’t imagine it was done before the late 19th century. It looks like a revivalistic work by the hand of somebody who tried to imagine a Renaissance horse and rider.
There’s talk of this being another Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) episode, in which a painting attributed to Leonardo sold for $450 million, making it the most expensive artwork to be sold publicly. Despite the record price, Salvator Mundi was pulled from the Louvre’s upcoming Leonardo blockbuster amid questions about its authenticity.
The small sculpture’s provenance is certainly atypical. The mold from which the sculpture was cast was owned by a real estate developer named Richard Lewis for 30 years; Lewis received it as collateral for a loan that was never repaid. Lewis’s wife told Bloomberg that the mold primarily remained in a closet in their home, but that Lewis was known to take it out at dinner parties to show guests. Amidst the 2008 financial crisis, the couple was forced to file for bankruptcy, at which point Lewis formed “Leonardo da Vinci Equestrian LLC” before taking the mold to a foundry in Burbank, California, where the bronze being offered by Guernsey’s, along with a further edition of Horse and Rider in four different patinas, were cast.
Las Vegas-based gallerist Rod Maly noted that at least 70 casts were made and sold, which may prove counterintuitive to the auction house’s use of the word “unique” to describe the work. The estimates were set by Rod Maly’s son Brett Maly, who is the resident art appraiser on the television show Pawn Stars. Horse and Rider will be auctioned off without a reserve, meaning it can sell at any price, and the lot will also include the latex mold from which it was cast.