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Case Number 23559: Small Claims Court

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Mystery of a Masterpiece

PBS // 2011 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 24th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge Roman Martel believes da Vinci's mom told him everything he made was a masterpiece.

The Charge

How do you prove a mysterious chalk drawing of a young girl is an unknown work of Leonardo da Vinci? Nova dives right in.

The Case

In 1998, a portrait appeared at Christie's as part of an art auction. It was originally catalogued as an early 19th century German work, but upon closer examination a prospective buyer believed it to be da Vinci. If this was true, the drawing would increase in value from a mere $19,000 to about $60 million. What's more, it would be added to the small but important body of da Vinci's surviving work.

Mystery of a Masterpiece reveals the challenges a whole host of experts faced in proving (or disproving) the authenticity of this piece. Photographic specialists utilized powerful cameras to magnify the image and examine every artistic detail. In many cases, da Vinci's style was evident, especially in the obvious left-handed shading. Other cameras were used to expose the various layers of work.

Art experts attempted to recreate the drawing, using period accurate pigments and application. What they discovered was that even though the elements used to make the drawing were unusual, it was possible da Vinci was experimenting with new materials and techniques.

Historians were brought in to identify the young women, narrowing it down to a member of Milan's powerful Sforza family. Combined with some forensic work, they even traced a potential source for the drawing.

Director David Murdock put Mystery of a Masterpiece together using a variety of source material. Sure we get to see the experts at work, but we also hear from the naysayers who feel this is nothing but clever and skilled aping of da Vinci's distinctive style. A gentleman well-versed in art forgery even dissects what it takes to make a successful piece of bogus fine art.

PBS sticks to its solid Nova broadcast presentation. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clear, and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix well-balanced. There are no extras.

Mystery of a Masterpiece is an engaging ride, well worth checking out for fans of da Vinci and fine art sleuthing. Though, in the end, many questions remain.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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