Leonardo Da Vinci, the man attributed with creating one of the most famous paintings in the world – the iconic Mona Lisa, is also believed to have created one of the most powerful self portraits. The 500 year old painting is believed to have mystical powers. It recently returned to the headlines after going on a rare public display in the city of Turin, Italy.
According to local folklore, the gaze of the great artist in the self-portrait is so intense it gives anyone observing it great strength. In fact, many believe that it was fear of this magical power which led to the painting being secretly moved from Turin to Rome in the 1940s, to prevent it from falling into the hands of Adolf Hitler.
The iconic painting is now lying in its original location; a purpose built cave in the Royal Library in Turin. The room is lit with fibre optic lighting and completely shielded from natural light. The temperature is constantly kept at 20 degrees and the humidity at 55%. The display cases are made from a type of glass that has been popularly termed “anti-everything”.
On top of the fact that the painting still manages to wow people across the globe, the story behind how it came to Turin is quite extraordinary as well. The Self-Portrait was initially purchased by King Carlo Alberto of Savoy from Giovanni Volpato in 1839. The king purchased the painting from the renowned art dealer at the astronomical price of 50000 Piedmontese lire, a sum so huge even a king took eight years to raise the full amount. Such was the allure of the painting that Volpato asked the king if he could act as its unpaid curator at the Royal Library.
The Self-Portrait dates back to 1515, and has always been a major source of controversy among art experts. Many believe that it corresponds to da Vinci’s style of the 1490s, but the subject of the image is an old man while da Vinci was only in his forties at the time. James Hall, the author of ‘Self-Portrait: A Cultural History’, believes that Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t keen on indulgences like self-portraiture, and he therefore questions its authenticity. Others like Liz Rideal, a lecturer at the National Portrait Gallery in London, believe that the Self-Portrait is actually the real deal. The director of the Royal Library also believes that there is no doubt as to the fact that this is a self portrait.
What makes the portrait so popular is the fact that anyone who stands in front of the drawing is dumbstruck. The first thing that the person realises after recovering his or her senses is that the painting actually gives one the shivers. This unique power is something only da Vinci was known to possess, and adds to the sense of authenticity of the portrait.
The Self-Portrait is considered to be so valuable that it is in a permanent state of immovability. Nowadays it can only be moved with ministerial permission.
The painting is currently on restricted display in the Royal Library in Turin.