Swiss authorities have seized a portrait of a woman attributed to Leonardo da Vinci from a private bank vault to return it to Italy, where police will seek to determine its ownership and art historians its authenticity.
The portrait of a Renaissance-era noblewoman, Isabella D'Este, first emerged in 2013 in Switzerland, tantalizing Leonardo aficionados with a tale of a lost work by the Renaissance master. Italian authorities had more prosaic concerns: Whether the painting had been removed from Italy without authorization.
The seizure Monday, and the painting's imminent return to Italy, is expected to renew the debate about its authenticity.
A prominent Leonardo expert, Carlo Pedretti, has attributed it to Leonardo, financial police said in a release Tuesday, dating the painting to the early 16th century.
But not all experts are persuaded that Leonardo painted the portrait, which shows the noblewoman in profile with an enigmatic smile and a golden crown.
"There is no clear proof it is a Leonardo," said Alessandro Vezzosi, director of a museum dedicated to Leonardo in his Tuscan hometown of Vinci, noting that works have been falsely attributed to the master in the past.
When the painting first emerged in 2013 Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported in its magazine Sette that it belonged to a family living in both Italy and Switzerland who had sought the work's authentication.
A drawing of D'Este by Leonardo is in the Louvre, and Corriere cited correspondence from D'Este entreating Leonardo to follow up with a proper painting. For centuries, experts were unsure whether Leonardo had ever obliged her.
In 2013, Italian authorities learned that a lawyer had the mandate to negotiate to sell the painting for 95 million euros ($107-million). The work was then already in Switzerland, allegedly without proper export licenses but when Italy asked for its return, Swiss authorities couldn't find it.
It wasn't located again until last summer, in a private Swiss bank vault in the Italian-speaking Ticino canton, during a separate investigation into financial. By then, negotiations were under way to sell it for 120 million euros, police said.