A music professor has identified what he believes to be a rare image of Leonardo da Vinci in a 500-year-old engraving.
Carved by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi in 1505, it shows da Vinci playing a lira da braccio – a European bowed string instrument of the Renaissance.
If it proves to be authentic, the engraving could be one of only three depictions of the artist created while he was alive.
‘This is serious and stands some chance of being right,’ said Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp, a professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University, in an e-mail to LiveScience.
The engraving has belonged to the Cleveland Museum of Art since the 1930s, but the figure has long thought to be the Greek mythological figure of Orpheus.
Ross Duffin, a music professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, questioned this interpretation in an article for Cleveland Art magazine.
He said that while Orpheus is usually depicted as a clean-shaven youth, the musician in the drawing is in his ‘late middle age, with a beard and centrally parted hair with long curls’.
Duffin compares the engraving with a portrait of da Vinci drawn by Francesco Melzi, ‘who joined the 54-year-old Leonardo’s household as an assistant in 1506 and eventually became his principal heir.’
‘Melzi’s portrait shows a man with a beard and long curls, and the very slight bump in his nose and the ridge above the brow are an excellent match for the long-haired, bearded [man] in the Marcantonio engraving,’ he wrote.
But the biggest clue, says the professor, is in the lira da braccio that the figure is playing – an instrument known to have been played by da Vinci.
When and how the two artists met remains a mystery, Kemp wrote in the email.
Marcantonio was working in Bologna at this early stage of his career, and there is no obvious way they would have met.
There is some chance the two men might have met in Milan in 1506-1507 during a production of ‘Orfeo,’an opera on the Orpheus myth.
‘At this stage, I would say that it is temptingly possible but unproven,’ he added.