The French government has put a temporary export bar on a recently uncovered double-sided drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. The officials have declared the masterpiece “a national treasure”. The request for an export certificate was issued by Tajan, a Paris-based auction house who will most likely have to find a French buyer for the drawing.
The work of art depicts the martyred St. Sebastian, measures about 7½ inches by 5 inches is only the second drawing by the master to be authenticated since 2000. The reverse of the drawing shows optical studies in light and shadow with text. 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.
“This rare item is precious testimony to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci” – FrenchCulture Minister
French government protocol will give 30 months to find a local buyer for 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 the precious testimony to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci; it is essential that it is kept.” The auction house declined to comment on the government ruling and has not released any information about a sale of the drawing.
Thaddée Prate, director of old master pictures at the Tajan auction house recalled being “in a bit of a rush” when a retired doctor visited Tajan with 14 unframed drawings that had been collected by his bibliophile father. (The owner’s name and residence somewhere in “central France” remain a closely guarded secret, at his request.) Mr. Prate spotted a vigorous pen-and-ink study of St. Sebastian tied to a tree, inscribed on the mount “Michelange” (Michelangelo). “I had a sense that it was an interesting 16th-century drawing that required more work,” said the elegantly suited Mr. Prate, speaking in the boardroom of Tajan’s premises, near the Paris Opera.