Inventor, scientist, engineer, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, philosopher or even writer… Leonardo da Vinci designed and created many pieces, but not the bust of the goddess Flora. In any case, this is confirmed by a study which closes a long-standing debate. In fact, the sculpture was created centuries after the artist’s death.
In 1909, the bust of the goddess Flora (a Roman deity of flowering plants) was acquired at auction by Wilhelm von Bode, the founder and director of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum (now the Bode Museum) in Berlin. At the time, the approximately two-foot-tall wax statue was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, mainly because the features of the woman resembled those of the faces in the artist’s paintings. However, not everyone agreed.
During the two years following this acquisition, European researchers published several hundred articles contesting the origin of the sculpture.
Carried out in the 1900s, the chemical analysis of wax did not could not determine the age of the statue. On the other hand, it had made it possible to isolate traces of spermaceti, a white waxy substance produced in the heads of sperm whales. However, the use of this material was quite rare in Renaissance art objects and much more common in 19th century sculpture.
Others also questioned the method of molding which they felt did not reflect Renaissance techniques. Another study also revealed the presence of 19th century log and wood fragments on the back of the bust. The authors of this work had however agreed that these materials could have been related to the part during subsequent manipulations.
Finally, there are historical documents supporting that said bust was created by a 19th century British sculptor named Richard Cockle Lucas in 1846. These documents are signed by his son.
“It’s a plot, a sham“, Was then defended Von Boden who was accused of having bought a fake.
However, if the origins of this bust were contested among art experts for over a century since no direct evidence had ever linked him to Da Vinci, no study had proven this non-parentage with certainty either. It is now done.
Sculpted between the 18th and 19th century
As part of this study, a team led by researchers from CNRS / Chimie ParisTech carried out a new chemical analysis of the piece, emphasizing that it was mainly composed of spermaceti mixed with beeswax.
On this basis, the scientists were then able to date a few wax samples by measuring the decay of the carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon. They also took care to calibrate their calculations to reflect that the wax came from animals in a marine environment.
Comparing their wax analysis to carbon-14 measurements from other marine sources, the researchers estimated that the bust was likely carved in the 19th century, and not during the lifetime of Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519).