French government given 30 days to buy rare Leonardo sketch

A rare double-sided drawing that has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci has been given a temporary export bar by the French government. According to the Journal des Arts and The Art Newspaper, the request has been made by the Paris auction house Tajan, who discovered the drawing last month. 

One side of the 19 x 13cm sheet shows a pen and ink sketch of Saint Sebastian bound to a tree, while the other displays two scientific drawings with notes by the artist. The work is believed to be one of eight drawings of the saint listed by Leonardo in his collection of notebooks and sketchbooks, the Codex Atlanticus (1478-1519), making it one of only three images of the saint by the artist whose whereabouts are known.

Tajan has valued the work at €15m (£12.8m), but has not given any information about plans for the sale of the drawing. The export bar will give the government 30 months to buy the work at market value. A statement from the French 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 remarkable work was brought into the auction house in March 2016 by a retired doctor. Thaddée Prate, Tajan’s director of old master pictures, spotted the sketch among a portfolio of 14 unframed drawings that had been collected by the doctor’s father.  “I had a sense that it was an interesting 16th-century drawing that required more work,” he told the New York Times in December.

Prate consulted the Old Master drawings expert, Patrick de Bayser, and the curator of Spanish and Italian drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Carmen Bambach, who both agreed that it was a work by the Renaissance master and dated from around 1482-85.

Dr. Bambach, an expert in Leonardo drawings, told the New York Times that her “eyes jumped out of their sockets,” when she saw the work. “The attribution is quite incontestable,” she added. “What we have here is an open-and-shut case. It’s an exciting discovery.”

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