Portrait of a Musician - by Leonardo da Vinci

Much debate surrounds this painting dating from the same period as Lady With An Ermine. If indeed Leonardo was the painter, Portrait Of A Musician would be the only portrait he did of a man. This painting is completely lacking in documentation and there is no record of anyone ever having commissioned it. Often considered to be his least important work, the fates have arranged that it should be the best preserved.

The first issue that arises with this panel is who really painted it. While hanging in the Louvre (1796-1815) it was listed as being by Bernadino Luini. In Milan, before and after that time, it was usually attributed to Leonardo. Other experts consider the artist was either Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio or Ambrogio de Predis.

The second issue is that of who the sitter was. In the nineteenth century the catalogue of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana listed this painting as "Portrait of Ludovico il Moro"; that was accepted without question until a 1905 cleaning revealed the sheet music along with the letters 'CANT...ANG...'. Now there was no doubt the subject was a musician, but which one was a another matter. Was it: Franchino Gaffario, choirmaster of Milan cathedral, (the text could be an abbreviation of the words Canticum Angelicum).Attalante Miglioretti, resident in Milan until 1490.Angelo Testagrossa, singer and singing master (perhaps the inscription reads cantor Angelo?)

Most historians think the portrait is probably of Franchino Gaffario but the connection is tenuous at best, as is evidence that this painting is by Leonardo. Various historians, remembering Leonardo's fondness for puzzles, have tried to read something into this piece of sheet music, so far without luck.

So, what makes this panel a possible Leonardo da Vinci? The answer lies in a certain kind of portraiture and common characteristics which exist in each of his portraiture works. These include the following things:

  • Backgrounds left in shadow.
  • Figures shown at half-length or slightly more.
  • Subjects carefully positioned at a three-quarter turn so as to improve viewer identification of the sitter.
Despite the third point, Leonardo's subjects remain largely unidentified. When it comes down to the nitty gritty all we can say for certain regarding Portrait Of A Musician is what we see in front of our eyes; things like how well the artist obviously understood the bone structure beneath the flesh, how unforced the pose is, the exquisitely curling hair and elegant fingers very common to Leonardo's work. Leonardo himself was a very fine musician.

Heavily restored and repainted this work was left unfinished, though at quite an advanced stage. The face and hair are well worked and the notes of a musical partition can be clearly seen. The remaining elements were left in the state of an advanced draft, this is most obvious in the tunic worn by the subject.