A 504-year-old sculpture created by Leonardo da Vinci was unveiled to the world in a special ceremony in Los Angeles this week. "Horse and Rider" is the only known three-dimensional piece of art created by Leonardo to still exist and one of only about two-dozen authenticated works in the world today.
"It’s a momentous occasion, Art Encounter’s Rod Maly told Yahoo News before the statue’s unveiling at the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. "It’s been in private collections for nearly 500 years, so it has not been promoted. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of mankind."
And in a development that is sure to intrigue historians and art fans alike, the sculpture is believed to contain a thumbprint of Leonardo.
The small sculpture mold measures 12 inches high, 12 inches long and 7 inches high, and is believed to have been intended as the model for a much larger sculpture. The Renaissance military figure riding upon a horse was created in 1508 by Leonardo as a gift for his friend and benefactor, French military governor Charles d’Amboise. After Leonardo’s death in 1519, the sculpture was given to his apprentice Francesco Mezi and is believed to have remained with his family in Italy until the 1930s when it was moved to Switzerland for safekeeping.
In 1985, American businessman Richard A. Lewis purchased the mold. "In all honesty, I was very naïve to what I had," Lewis told Yahoo News during an interview before the statue’s unveiling. That same year, Lewis contacted Dr. Carlo Pedretti, widely considered the world’s foremost living authority on Leonardo and professor emeritus of art history and the Chair of Leonardo Studies at UCLA. Dr. Pedretti studied and eventually authenticated the mold.
"For someone to call up and say ‘I think I own a Leonardo da Vinci mold,’ you’re like yeah right, I’d like to put it next to my Mona Lisa," Brett Barney, president of the American Fine Arts Foundry told Yahoo News. "But when he brought it in, right away we knew we had something."
Using what is called a "lost wax casting process," Barney and his team at the foundry spent three years working with the mold and eventually created a bronze casting from it. In essence, they have created a new piece of sculpture from one of the world’s artistic masters, nearly 500 years after his death.
"It’s the opportunity of a lifetime," Barney said. "To be part of a masterpiece by da Vinci himself, I can’t think of anybody that would be more prestigious."
When the mold was studied in detail, it was discovered that along the horse’s right breast a thumbprint exists. And while there is currently no way to verify, the print is believed to be Leonardo’s.
The mold casting actually sat in Lewis’ closet for more than 25 years before he contacted the foundry. And now, Lewis is determined to share the discovery with the world. And along with the piece’s historic value, Lewis is using the unveiling for a good cause. Several hundred metal castings have been made from the mold, which Art Encounter will be auctioning off. Lewis himself has committed to donating $1 million of the proceeds to the Salvation Army’s substance abuse program.
"It is a magnificent piece of art and I’d like to have as many people as possible be able to appreciate it," Lewis told Yahoo News. He said he eventually plans to donate the original mold and master sculpture to a museum.
After it’s unveiling in Los Angeles, the mold and master sculpture will be displayed in New York, London and Las Vegas, home to a new Leonardo exhibit at the Venetian Hotel.