"La Bella Principessa" by Von Carolsfeld?

My longstanding readers may remember a short post that I did last year, expressing reservations that the painting nicknamed “La Bella Principessa” (shown left) was a work by Leonardo da Vinci. (You may recall that a fingerprinting method was used to attribute this painting to Leonardo.)  I question this attribution for a couple of reasons, including the fact that this painting was done on vellum, a medium which Leonardo never used. I’m not the only art historian or curator with reservations about this attribution, and now people are coming forward to suggest who the actual artist might be.

I just read this news release about a new attribution: Fred R. Kline (an independent scholar) has come forward to suggest that the actual artist is Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, a lesser-known 19th century artist who belonged to the Nazarene Brotherhood in Germany. Kline’s argument is supported by a sketch called “Half-Nude Female” (shown below) which Klein discovered in the State Art Museum in Mannheim, Germany. Not only was this sketch created on vellum (just like “La Bella Principessa”), the model and braided hair are quite similar. Kline thinks that “La Bella Principessa” could have been a gift from Von Carolsfeld to this model.

This is a really interesting idea, and I congratulate Klein on his sleuthing. If this painting is by Von Carolsfeld, “La Bella Principessa” would be one of the best paintings that he ever created. I’m not familiar with all of Von Carolsfeld’s work, but I haven’t been terribly impressed with the paintings that I have seen.1 I do really like Von Carolsfeld’s sketches, though (for example, his sketches Seated Boy Playing a Pipe (1818) and Portrait of Victor Emil Jansen (n.d.) are very good). In my opinion, Von Carolsfeld was a much better draftsman than a painter, and I kind-of doubt he could create as fine of a painting as “La Bella Principessa.”  Even though Von Carolsfeld’s Klara Bianka von Quandt (1820) is an alright painting (despite the fact that the lute looks like it’s been cut-and-pasted into the model’s hands – sorry, I couldn’t help myself), it lacks the sfumato and modeling that gives the Principessa’s image a sense of depth and richness.

So, there you have it. We may have found a possible artist for “La Bella Principessa,” but (yet again!) I’m still not quite sure. I wonder, though, if “La Bella Principessa” might have been painted by another person associated with Nazarene Brotherhood. Perhaps someone who used the same model as Von Carolsfeld’s “Half-Nude Female” sketch, but also had more talent as a painter?  Does anyone know any information about Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Julius’ older brother)? I know that he was a painter too, but so far I can only find information about Julius’ son, who was given the same name.

1 Let me explain some of my reasoning. I think a lot of Von Carolsfeld’s painted figures seem a little too static. Consider The Family of John the Baptist Visiting Christ (1817), where the Christ child is awkwardly spread out like a lifeless doll. Or look at The Annunciation (1818): it seems strange that the Gabriel’s drapery is flowing behind him (suggesting movement), when the angel appears absolutely frozen in its stance. I realize that “La Bella Principessa” doesn’t allow for much comparative analysis in terms pose (since it is a bust portrait), but I still think that the face and upper figure of the “Principessa” seem much more relaxed and natural than any of the Von Carolsfeld paintings which I have seen.

  • heidenkind says:

    Personally, I don't see the connection between the sketch and the painting. The models may kind of look alike, but big deal. Also, this doesn't seem like the kind of painting Carolsfeld would paint at all–you're right, he's all about the bright colors and isn't terribly interested in making his models look natural and relaxed.

    I do like your idea of maybe another Nazarene painting from the same model, though. Maybe Peter von Cornelius or Rudolf von Pforr (he's actually my favorite).

  • H Niyazi says:

    Great work Monica! I've also updated my post on it, which linked to the Martin Kemp podcast from Oxford Uni.

    Not too long ago, a very cryptic, and somewhat angry anonymous comment was left under that post indicating all was about to be revealed! I'm starting to feel I know who it was…!

    This is where I might come off as a snobby scientist, but the statistical power of both schools of thought at the moment are not unassailable.

    This ties in nicely with my whole "connoisseurs are not scientists" idea, which I can't get many art historians to agree with me on!

    For those interested: feel free to listen to Martin Kemp's description and make up your own mind who is at fault here! I think the media, galleries involved and their insurers have a hand in reporting the attribution as confirmed – when it never truly was.

    3PP: Professor Martin Kemp on Leonardo and La Bella Principessa


  • e says:

    What a neat discovery! Proves just how smart you are — being an art historian really is your calling.

    The question I have (and I see Heidenkind said the same thing) is how can they tell based off the sketch and the painting? I don't see any obvious matches going on there …

  • M says:

    heidenkind and e, I didn't see a lot of similarity between the sketch and the painting at first, either. But after looking at both works for awhile, I think that it might be the same model – although the model in the painting looks younger than the one in the sketch. I see a couple of similarities in the noses and chins, especially.

    I wasn't aware of Peter von Cornelius, heidenkind, and I like that suggestion a lot. I can't find any information on Rudolf von Pforr, though – did you mean Franz Pforr? Franz is a good possibility, too, although I think his work is generally more stylized than "La Bella Principessa."

    That anonymous comment is pretty intense, Hasan! Yeah, it makes me wonder if we know who wrote it. I learned from your post about the 2010 publication on "La Bella Principessa" – how interesting (and unfortunate) that this new argument makes the book already dated.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.