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French government places export bar on €15m Leonardo da Vinci drawing

State has 30 months to buy newly discovered work hailed as a “national treasure”

by Gareth Harris, Victoria Stapley-Brown  |  4 January 2017
French government places export bar on €15m Leonardo da Vinci drawing
Optical studies in light and shadow and text by Leonardo da Vinci on the verso
The French government has placed a temporary export bar on a rare double-sided drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, with state officials hailing the piece “a national treasure”. According to our sister paper Le Journal des Arts, a request for an export certificate was made by the Paris-based auction house Tajan, which announced the discovery last month.  

The work depicts Saint Sebastian bound to a tree on one side, and optical studies in light and shadow with text by the Old Master on the reverse. The artist referred to eight drawings of the saint in his tome of drawings, texts and scientific studies, the Codex Atlanticus (1478-1519) and this sheet is believed to be among them.

The drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci depicts Saint Sebastian bound to a tree on the recto
The drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci depicts Saint Sebastian bound to a tree on the recto
According to protocol, the move gives the government 30 months to buy the work at market value; Tajan has valued the piece at €15m. A statement from the ministry of culture dated 28 December says that this “rare item… is precious testimony to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci; it is essential that it is kept [in France].” The auction house declined to comment on the government ruling and has not released any information about a sale of the drawing.

The work was brought to Tajan by a retired doctor in a group of 14 unframed drawings collected by his father. The work stood out to Thaddée Prate, Tajan’s director of Old Master paintings, who consulted Carmen Bambach, a curator of Spanish and Italian drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a specialist on the artist’s drawings. Bambach told the New York Times that the attribution to Leonardo da Vinci is “quite incontestable”.  

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