One 17th century woman may have decided this painting was an image too far. The original version of ‘Leda and the Swan’ by Leonardo da Vinci was last seen in 1625 and believed to be destroyed on the grounds of its adverse effects on the frazzled nerves of the wife of a diplomat, into whose hands it, unfortunately, came to rest. Fortunately, it was copied, and we can see Leonardo’s composition.
The ‘Leda and the Swan’ theme of the mythical abduction of Leda by Zeus after taking the form of a swan, was in great vogue during the fifteenth-century. However, subsequent times and super-sensitive moralities rendered the images lewd and too erotic to survive. See the copy of Michelangelo’s version, also considered destroyed.
Pass the smelling salts.
So, in times for scapegoat (or scape-swan) sensitivities, a few self-appointed gatekeepers burned, erased, planted bumper crops of fig leaves for decorum’s sake, and painstakingly ‘corrected’ many priceless sketches and paintings.
But, Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ may yet be found. It may have been secreted away, or disfigured by an over-painting. At this moment, it may be lingering anonymously on an office wall or stored in an attic. Perhaps it’s still secreted away in a forgotten World War II cache of confiscated art.
I explore the whereabouts of Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ in my novel-in-progress ‘Cherry White,’ to be published in November, 2014. My next post will give the details.
Another, anatomically-correct drawing of a male nude from Leonardo’s studio suffered the humiliation of being partially erased to appease its squeamish owner. The offensive realities of the flesh had been too much. The drawing is still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but imagine the audacity (read stupidity) to alter a work known to be a ‘Leonardo.’ It was bad enough that a few light-fingered enthusiasts cut segments from Leonardo da Vinci’s precious folios for their own collections, let alone disfigured or burned them under the guise of moral decency.
For many years, a generation of the British Royal Family overlooked the very trunk-load of Leonardo’s manuscripts which eventually became the heart of their famous Royal Collection. The treasure chest lingered in obscurity out of sight and mind, misidentified as insignificant. Who knows what works have not been publicly aired.
The latest of two ‘Leonardos’ to emerge in our century, the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (the saviour of the world) was once sold at auction in 1958 for forty-five pounds sterling (roughly $90) and lingered in obscurity for fifty years more. It recently sold for $85,000,000 (a bargain considering it has been valued at three times that amount)
Sadly, the recent ‘buyers syndicate’ or singularly wealthy owner is not public knowledge, so the painting has disappeared again, into a personal location or storage vault when it should have become ‘Qualitus Mundi’ (the property of the world), on display for all to enjoy. Hopefully there will come a day when such masterpieces cannot be privately secreted away, where they’re likely to be copied, moved about surreptitiously, or otherwise compromised to join the underground ranks of the sad category ‘now lost’ which should be more correctly listed as ‘now lost… again.’
Can important art be privately owned? The answer of course, is yes. Especially in the past when travelers could pick up a master painting for a few desperate shillings, acquiring the unsung for a song.
The people fortunate enough, who unknowingly harbor such ‘dormant’ works, should be compensated for their discoveries by public galleries, but surely these masterpieces must become the property of art history.
What work of art would you most like to own? Presuming (tongue-in-cheek) it could be purchased for a little more than a self-published novel, or at least under a hundred dollars.
My choice would be Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’… and if I were lucky enough to find myself the temporary owner of such a work, I would sell it on to a major gallery so everyone would be the richer.
Do you believe great art is the property of the world?