For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of research exchanges with the Australian scholar Graeme Cameron, especially on Raphael matters. I’m taking this opportunity of introducing his findings to an internet audience via a review of a book he’s just published.
Scientific connoisseurship can seem extremely esoteric to some people, not least because it’s difficult to relay findings in an objective way whilst simultaneously engaging the reader, especially an authorship outside the charmed circle of curators and art historians. Last year we had an excellent work on the controversial “La Bella Principessa”, published by Martin Kemp and Pascal Cotte, which though well-researched and scientifically sound, lacked popular appeal. Kemp and Cotte’s book came to mind while reading The Secrets of Leonardo because from earlier research exchanges in 2010, I was aware that Graeme Cameron had discerned Leonardo's authorship of the "Belle Principessa", from when images of it first appeared on the internet, before the research findings of Kemp and others were released. Another reason for the comparison is that both books demonstrate scientific connoisseurship in different ways, a subject that appears on AHT from time to time. In an earlier blog post, I said that the “Bella Principessa” volume suggested a new approach towards scientific connoisseurship, a rapprochement between traditional connoisseurship and the new scientific methodology; but after reading Cameron’s book, I think his is the ideal blueprint for uniting the two, not least because of the book’s innovative design.
This is a book that serves its methodology extremely well. For one thing Cameron has opted for an A4 format (both soft and hard cover) which means that you can study the images more effectively, without having to move a magnifying glass over them. Cameron designed the book himself and he has obviously given a great deal of thought to how his research findings – over 40 years’ worth-should be organized and presented. In this volume you’ll find large scale images in a book that is light; you’ll see magnifications of details, as well as magnification of those very details, juxtapositions of X-rays, infra-red and of course plates showing Vega Scans which has made these voyages into the detail of the pictures possible. Generally, there’s a nice balance of image and text without each overwhelming the other. Apart from the running textual exposition of interpretations and theories, there’s a fascinating biographical essay, a connoisseurship case study, as well as a cautionary tale of the auction rooms, not to mention some brief closing thoughts on the more publicised Leonardo re-discoveries of the present time. All this makes the book information- rich as well as visually exciting; and by making the format enact the process of looking into the microscopic world of the paintings, we’ve truly hit on a new way of reporting on scientific and historical discoveries, in my humble opinion.
Cameron’s book, the first in a projected series of volumes, is an embarrassment of riches. He starts with what some will see as the most controversial thesis about the most famous painting in the world- the Mona Lisa. This is that the portrait is not the celebrated beauty, Lisa Gheradini del Giocondo, thought to have been painted in Florence in 1503. Instead Cameron postulates that “Mona Lisa” is the rejuvenated portrait of Leonardo’s mother Caterina, whose aged features are hidden beneath the surface and dating to 1493. To support his claim, Cameron deploys Vega Scan technology, unpeeling the layers of the picture like an onion; the fifth stage Vega Scan shows a woman with markedly different physiognomy to the woman on the painting’s surface.
|1.Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris, oil on panel, 77 x 53 cm and comparison between surface of painting showing 1503 “rejuvenated” painting and 1493 sub-surface.|
As Cameron explains, beneath the surface, hidden in the depths of technique and motivation, we see an older woman with baggy, misshapen eyes, lighter in colour, a rounder, fatter jawline, and a thinner smiling mouth, all indicative of her humble origins. Caterina was a peasant who conceived Leonardo with his middle-class notary father, Ser Piero, out of wedlock, although Leonardo never forgot her. He asks after Caterina in his notebooks, though he never calls her mother. There are other differences revealed by the Vega Scan: a differently positioned hand coming up from a small box, maybe a receptacle for keepsakes, the author hazards, which was turned into a chair arm in the finished portrait on the surface. Personally I find this new interpretation entirely credible, but clearly there will be some who will push it to the margins of Leonardo scholarship. However, it’s important to point out that Cameron distances himself from the more outré readings of the “Mona Lisa” such as it being a feminized self-portrait or a feminized image of “Salai”, Leonardo’s troublesome pupil, To re-christen “Mona Lisa” as “Mona Caterina” seems plausible in the light of these literally incredible theories, and to do so needn’t involve such psycho-sexual extrapolations- one doesn’t need to descend into Freudian murk here. Neither does Cameron have any time for the Leonardo cryptographers intent on revealing Da Vinci codes under the skin of the painting, but instead concentrates on what he calls “Leonardo phenomena”, mostly visible with these micro-imaging techniques. These are hidden drawings and figures which lurk on and beneath the surface of the paintings. In the case of “Mona Lisa”, apart from the head of a man and Caterina’s buried features, there seem to be images of animals, such as cows and dogs as well as infants.
Some might dismiss the phenomena as the renaissance equivalent of seeing faces in clouds and on walls, but actually that was the way Leonardo’s fantasia or creative imagination worked, so these buried shapes and figures fit comfortably into his working method, a point that Cameron is keen to make: the artist has embedded his working practices within his paintings. More “phenomena” reside within another discovery that Cameron examines, namely a Self-Portrait of 1500, purportedly showing Leonardo at the age of 58 years, executed towards the end of his time in Florence.
|2.Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait, Private Collection, (Florence, 1500), oil on canvas, 69 x 57 cm.||3.Leonardo da Vinci, Self-Portrait, Royal Library, Turin, red chalk on paper, 333 x 213 mm.|
I’m not inclined to dismiss this lesser-known portrait of the artist, not least because doubt has been cast on the number of well-known self-images within the artist’s oeuvre, so why is this less likely to be a true image of the master? It’s no less believable that this this is Leonardo than that the iconic drawing at Turin resembles the master. In fact the two seem to reinforce each other’s physiognomy when placed side by side. Here, thanks to facial matching techniques and forensic investigation we have the famous aquiline nose, the wavy beard, the corrugated brow, physical details which correspond with written descriptions of the man. I’m not so sure about tying in the newly discovered Self-Portrait with the Plato image in Raphael’s School of Athens, not least because there’s the issue of why Raphael decided to age the man he knew in Florence, and how we reconcile Leonardo’s “philosophy” with Plato rather than Aristotle, whose empiricism fits the artist’s precepts better. Having said that, it’s a fact that Raphael took “philosophical” type figures from Leonardo’s aborted Adoration of the Magi, done before he left Florence for Milan, so maybe The School of Athens is some kind of peculiar homage to the older master. However, philosophical associations aside, aging and self-image is something that Cameron is opening up to critical scrutiny here, to his credit. His theory that Leonardo’s knowledge of the human body gained through dissection would have enabled him to paint himself either younger or older seems to me ripe for research. And of course, it fits in with the reverse aging, or rejuvenation of “Mona Caterina” presented earlier in the book.
|4.Leonardo phenomena on surface of Self-Portrait: two “grotesque heads” on the sleeve of Leonardo's robe.||5. Outline guide of heads to facilitate viewing.|
|6.area of Leonardo self-portrait (centre right of canvas)where grotesque head is located||7.Leonardo grotesque head|
|8.area of Leonardo self-portrait (lower left of canvas) where canon and mortar is located.||9.Canon and mortar combined device.|
|10.area of Leonardo self –portrait (left of face) where underwater man is located.||11.A Man in an underwater “frogman’s suit.”.|
As for the “phenomena” in this Self-Portrait, how do we explain grotesque heads, a canon and mortar, and what appears to be a man in a “frogman’s suit” revealed by the Vega scan technology? All these interests dovetail with Leonardo’s own pursuits, and the military motifs seem relevant because this was the sort of invention that Leonardo was devising for Cesare Borgia in 1502. Phenomena also extend to the frame of the picture, which under magnification reveals shapes resembling old men as well as the artist’s monograms.
|12. Raphael, The Judgement of Paris, Earl of Malmesbury, 1512, oil on canvas, 56 x 71 cm||13. Marcantonio Raimondi, The Judgement of Paris, engraving,|
After a short section on a Leonardo drawing, a remarkably academic study of a nude with more “phenomena”, Cameron switches to an equally explosive revelation: Raphael’s lost masterpiece of the Judgment of Paris. It has always been received art history opinion that Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving and a handful of workshop drawings came closest to the missing masterpiece, given up as lost for centuries. A small canvas of the subject has been known to scholars, but it’s always thought to have been painted by Giorgione, not least because of its Venetian landscape and luminous palette. Other Giorgionesque characteristics include the seated figure, thought to be a variant of the figure on the ground in the Tempest. All through its exhibition history, it has been catalogued as a Giorgione (of circa 1509), though most of the time it has languished at Heron Court, Dorset, the ancestral seat of the Malmesbury family. The attribution to Giorgione only began to be questioned in 1950, and in the 1960s it was taken away from Giorgione. What Cameron calls “reassignment research” was surprisingly not undertaken, despite the existence of three other copies (one in the Uffizi, one destroyed in the war, and one in the National Gallery of Sweden) until the author embarked upon this course in 1984. The line taken was to consider what other Venetian artist might have executed such an impressive work which had garnered the praise of such founding connoisseurs such as Waagen and Eastlake. Subsequently, unable to solve the problem, Cameron “deferred research” for another long period of 20 years until he fortuitously saw a close-up of a photo of Raphael’s lover “La Fornarina” in a book on the artist in 2003.
|14. Physiognomic comparisons of La Fornarina at various stages – La Donna Velata, Sistine Madonna and re-discovered Judgement of Paris.||15.Comparison between figure in rediscovered Judgement and Raphael Self-Portrait.|
This set the author off on a new trail with the goal of testing his hypothesis that the seated figure was actually Raphael himself, who was choosing the woman he loved, “La Fornarina” like the mythological Paris who selected Venus. To strengthen the biographical interpretation, Cameron needed to reconcile the demonstrably Venetian handling of the canvas with its more Roman like relief aspect, a seemingly impossible task. There are many intersecting points here: Sebastiano del Piombo who successfully married Venetian colourism with the Roman antique; and of course the Venetian engraver Raimondi was one of Raphael’s star pupils in Rome. However, after the “La Fornarina” moment, and contrary to mainstream Raphael scholarship, Cameron judged the link between Raimondi’s engraving and the lost Judgment of Paris a red herring. What if this Judgment of Paris, given the resemblance of one of the women to Raphael’s inamorata, was a more personal statement, a declaration of love in paint, born of the cult of beauty in Rome and fear of the Church’s reaction to the celebration of nudity, hence its clandestine status? Cameron sees the Heron Court canvas as a more vivid sensual expression of passion, at odds with the chaste, classically moderated composition of Raimondi- the official sanitized version. For myself, I’m completely convinced by Cameron’s meticulous stylistic analyses where matches are made between figures in the lost Judgement of Paris and portraits of “La Fornarina” and Raphael himself. This is indeed a great achievement, and one wonders how the disclosure that the Heron Court work is the lost Judgement of Paris is going to be received by the magnifici who have always settled for the Raimondi engraving as the image of the lost composition. Time will tell.
|16.Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Elizabeth Tudor, the future Elizabeth I, Private Collection, tempera and oil on oak panel, 52 x 42 cm.|
Graeme Cameron’s last major revelation is the publication of a Holbein’s Portrait of Elizabeth the First a beguiling image of the beautiful, young English princess dating from about 1542. Despite its strong provenance, and its approval by a leading Holbein scholar, Paul Ganz in The Conoisseur in 1952, the painting has never been accepted into the artist’s oeuvre. Cameron supplies strong evidence and arguments for overturning the dis-attribution. Apart from the web of historical evidence and fact tying the work to the young Elizabeth, there is the iconography of the Judgement of Paris, reappearing again, this time on the brooch around the woman’s neck, which must relate to her virtue and beauty.
|17.Hans Eworth, Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, 1569.|
Graeme Cameron probably knows this, but there’s a unique painting by Hans Eworth of 1569 showing the Queen in the Judgement of Paris,holding a royal orb instead of an apple, the idea presumably that Elizabeth’s beauty and queenly virtue surpasses the qualities of the three goddesses who are thrown into disarray by the monarch’s entrance. Though it’s not by Holbein, it proves that this specific subject was linked with images of the queen. Returning to Cameron’s portrait, there’s also the frame, which through dendrochronological analysis has been linked to Holbein’s workshop production through 1537 to 1542, the latter the date of the portrait. Despite all this, the Portrait of Elizabeth I continues to be ignored; given its historical significance to this nation, it should definitely have been in the Holbein in England exhibition of 2007, but astoundingly wasn’t! The English public were robbed of the sight of a national treasure, and that’s deplorable.
I could go on, but hopefully I’ve conveyed the importance of these findings and the innovative presentation of this book. I’m sure that this book of art history revelations will be received well in some quarters. I’m also convinced that some will find these findings unwelcome, and may place Graeme’s book on the Index of prohibited titles. Art History despises paradigm change, and devises its own thumbscrews and inquisitions to keep the “heretical” in line. That would be a shame as this book opens up many interesting debates and inquiries about all these artists. It’s wonderful to see Graeme Cameron going public with these research outcomes, and there’s still more to come.
All images courtesy of Graeme Cameron except for the Raimondi engraving and Eworth painting which came from here.
 The best discussion of the problematics of Leonardo’s self-image is in Daniel Arasse’s Leonardo da Vinci, 28-33.
 It’s interesting to note that the French scholar Hubert Damisch, in his long exploration of the Judgment of Paris theme detected the painted residue of Raphael’s lost work in `a window embrasure in the Stanza della Segnatura. As Damisch noted, this studio work is hidden behind a wooden blind and an inscription, and has never been reproduced, which explains its invisibility. Since this complex decorative scheme is positioned beneath the Parnassus fresco Damisch saw this Judgement expressing the idea of the beautiful. It’s interesting to speculate whether the rediscovered Judgement and its variant copies suggest dissemination of similar ideas of beauty and judgement throughout Raphael’s studio. A subject worthy of further research?
 Susan Foister, Holbein in England, Tate Britain, 2007.