- Nick Squires in Perugia
- March 2, 2009
IT SOUNDS like a plot from a Dan Brown thriller but Italian researchers believe they have discovered a previously unknown self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci drawn when the artist was a young man.
The delicate pencil sketch has emerged after being hidden for 500 years in one of the Renaissance genius's most famous manuscripts, Codex On The Flight of Birds, written between 1490 and 1505.
An Italian scientific journalist who was studying the document noticed, concealed by lines of bold ink handwriting, the faint outline of a nose which struck him as being similar in shape and drawing style to a later self-portrait of Leonardo.
Piero Angela enlisted the help of art historians, Carabinieri police forensic experts and graphic artists to tease out more detail from the ghostly image. Over months of micro-pixel work, graphic designers gradually "removed" the text by making it white instead of black, revealing the drawing beneath.
What emerged was the face of a young- to middle-aged man with long hair, a short beard and a pensive gaze.
Angela was struck by similarities to a famous self-portrait of Leonardo, made when the artist was an old man about 1512. The portrait, in red chalk, is kept in Turin's Biblioteca Reale.