Leonardo da Vinci was the most influential artist of the Italian Renaissance and possibly of all time and an accomplished mathematician, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, sculptor, architect, botanist, and writer. His paintings — including his famous Mona Lisa — are some of the most widely recognized and revered art pieces in history.
But did you know Leonardo da Vinci painted less than 20 pictures in his lifetime? And now it appears that some of those paintings may have been lost forever. Unfortunately, these missing works likely include some famous ones, such as The Battle of Anghiari. It’s a mural-sized fresco that was destroyed in 1559 by Vasari.
A recently-discovered painting by Leonardo has caused quite a stir in high-end art circles due to its artistic excellence, prompting speculation that more lost works by Da Vinci could still be out there waiting to be discovered. Let’s read on to find out more about it.
The Salvator Mundi is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most iconic and recognizable paintings, a portrait of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World. The painting was auctioned at Christie’s New York on 15 November 2017, where it sold for $450.3 million—the highest known price ever paid for an artwork.
The sale sparked public debate about whether or not more such masterpieces are lost to history, with some saying that other notable works by da Vinci could exist but remain undiscovered.
Although Leonardo da Vinci created the oil painting that depicts Christ as the world’s Savior, its whereabouts were unknown from the middle of the 18th century to 1900. So when Sir Charles Robinson acquired it as a work by Bernardino Luini, one of da Vinci’s studio assistants, it reportedly appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in 1958.
The Battle of Anghiari
In 1503, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to create a battle scene in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. The resulting mural, known as The Battle of Anghiari, featured more than 3,000 soldiers—the most that had ever been painted at once—and included detailed landscapes and architecture. Leonardo never finished it, but he left dozens of preparatory sketches that captured what he intended for his masterpiece.
The painting depicted two armies clashing and was intended as propaganda by Florentine ruler Piero Soderini, who wanted to show off his military might. The artistic and cultural message is vital because it wasn’t just made for local consumption; it was meant to be seen elsewhere, says Giorgio Vasari, author of Renaissance-era biographies about Italian artists.
According to Vasari, one of da Vinci’s friends and biographers, he painted a scene from Rome’s most famous battles: The Battle of Anghiari (1440), when Florentine forces defeated Milanese troops. He chose it as a symbol of Florentine dominance over its rivals in Italy.
Lady with an Ermine
One of Leonardo da Vinci’s earliest masterpieces, Lady with an Ermine, is as historically significant as artistically beautiful. Moreover, it was painted around 1489, years before his more well-known works, such as The Last Supper and Mona Lisa. Lady with an Ermine has a special place in art history for these reasons and others.
Moreover, it was named for its most prominent element: a young woman who’s depicted cradling a small ermine in her arms. It’s widely regarded as one of da Vinci’s most delicate pieces of early Renaissance art. However, for all its historical significance, few know about where it came from or what happened to it after da Vinci finished painting it.
The subject is not just portrayed with her pet ermine—she holds it in her arms as a sign of how much she dotes on animals. In addition to being pretty remarkable for its time, her hairstyle would become an influential style for Renaissance women.
A Genius of An Influential Artist
A genius in both his composition and execution, Leonardo da Vinci paintings have been admired for centuries and have influenced countless artists to follow in his footsteps. This is what makes the revelation that there may be more lost paintings by da Vinci so exciting—although not necessarily surprising. Art history is filled with tales of destroyed masterpieces, either by accident or on purpose.
There are also many instances where lost pieces were recovered decades after their disappearance. And while it might seem impossible to some people, future generations could possess a trove of new Leonardos that they don’t even know about yet. Maybe it will happen… perhaps it won’t… but it’s certainly an exciting thought!
We can rest assured that we already have numerous examples of world-class artwork from arguably history’s most revolutionary painter. Many experts claim that his talent exceeds anything seen since; he was indeed an exceptional individual who lived a remarkable life full of adventure and achievement.
The Bottom Line
Not only did Da Vinci have a knack for painting, but he was also an artist and inventor who experimented with materials and discovered essential concepts. As a result, some experts believe many of his lost artworks may still be out there, waiting to be discovered. It’s possible they could reveal more about his methods and masterpieces, such as The Last Supper. And once lost art is found, museums are racing to figure out how best to display it, restore it, or even save it from being looted again.