It may well be one of the images that is most commonly associated with the Italian High Renaissance master, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Portrait Of A Man In Red Chalk, the iconic ‘self-portrait’ of Leonardo Da Vinci, may in fact be a drawing of another man. The portrait is read chalk on paper, it was completed by a Vinci circa 1510 to 1512 and it is currently held at the Biblioteca Reale di Turino (The Royal Library of Turin). The ‘fox-marks’, or brown spots that are now visible on the paper have been caused by the accumulation of iron salts that have resulted from excessive moisture, and the drawing is not normally on display to the public due to its fragile condition. Traditionally the 13.1 inch by 8.5 inch drawing has been interpreted to be a self-portrait of the Italian polymath at the age of 60, but we’re going to take a look at some of the other theories concerning the portrait’s potential subject.

The attribution of the work to Da Vinci only occurred in the 19th Century and it was based largely on two pieces of evidence. One was the apparent similarity of the subject of the portrait to Raphael’s painting of Da Vinci as Plato in his circa 1509 to 1510 Vatican fresco The School of Athens. The second piece of evidence used in the provenance of the work is the high quality of the draughtsmanship and the style of the drawing (it is possible to deduce that the fine lines and the shadow hatching effects were done by a left-handed artist) that is consistent with other work by Da Vinci.

That seems to be it as far as proof of provenance for the work goes, and as you can imagine, with so little evidence with which to make a pronouncement as to the subject’s identity, there are plenty of experts with doubts as to the who the drawing is of, and whether or not it is even a real Da Vinci. A key criticism of the work is that the man portrayed appears to be of a significantly greater age than 60, with some experts hypothesising that he may between 75 and 80 years of age. Da Vinci died at the age of 67 and so far the only defence against this observation has been that he may have suffered from premature aging.

Many aspects of the portrait aren’t in keeping with typical Renaissance styles and indicate greater age and sagacity – the long hair and flowing beard, the deep set brow and pouches beneath the eyes as well as the deep grooves from the nostrils indicating that the figure may have lost his front teeth. While there are no other known formal self-portraits of Da Vinci, other portraits of him from a similar time don’t seem to corroborate these details of agedness, haggard appearance or missing front teeth. Alternatives that have been suggested include Da Vinci’s father, Ser Piero Da Vinci, or his uncle Francesco Da Vinci, both of whom lived until the age of 80.

As is often the case with 500 year old works of art, baring the revelation of another as yet unknown Da Vinci self-portrait, it is unlikely we will ever be able to ascertain whether the work is definitely genuine or not.