Art expert claims discovery of Leonardo da Vinci's earliest work

'The Archangel Gabriel' was painted on glazed tile

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Leonardo da Vinci

(CNN) - Italian scholars claim they have unearthed the first known piece by Renaissance genius Leonardo Da Vinci.

"The Archangel Gabriel," a painted glazed tile, was signed and dated by an artist believed to be the 18-year-old Da Vinci.

The claim is based on a signature and date painted in the angel's jaw line, barely visible to the naked eye. It reads "Da Vinci Lionardo," with the apparent date of authorship; "1471."

After three years of scientific and artistic investigations, Professor Ernesto Solari, an art historian and expert on Da Vinci, along with Ivana Rosa Bonfantino, a handwriting expert, announced that this could be the first known work produced by Da Vinci.

The glazed tile was found by the descendants of the aristocratic Fenice family of Ravello, Italy, Solari said. They didn't know the origins of the piece or that it was even a Da Vinci, but, Solari said, "Thankfully, they realized it was something that shone a bit brighter than the other things they found when cleaning out the house, and that is when they called us."

Handwriting match 'very close'

Bonfantino analyzed countless samples of Leonardo's work, noting that his penmanship evolved from his youth, but claimed that the "match was very close" between different examples and the one found on the tile.

"The idea we have formed until now of Leonardo is the Leonardo of the 'Mona Lisa', the Leonardo of 'The Last Supper' -- the mature Leonardo. Now we have insight into the artist as a young man."

Thanks to the piece having remained with the descendants of the family, Solari said, "We were able to reconstruct 500 years of the tile's whereabouts."

"My hope is that it remains in Italy -- it is part of our national heritage," said Solari. "This piece is the earliest work of Leonardo and has his earliest known signature -- it is priceless."

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