In 1909, the Berlin Royal Museums, under the direction of Wilhelm Bode, purchased a wax bust of the goddess Flora for 185,000 Goldmark. The artist? Leonardo da Vinci! Well, maybe. The purchase created controversy, and hundreds of articles appeared – some in favor and others against the attribution.
Even though there were no other Renaissance wax sculptures, that did not deter Bode’s insistence that this was, in fact, an original Leonardo da Vinci. Gustav Pauli, director of a Hamburg museum, had another artist in mind – Richard Cockle Lucas (1800-1883). Lucas was a 19th-century British sculptor known to have created wax sculptures inspired by the Old Masters. According to the article in The Art Newspaper, Lucas was a real eccentric; he named his son Albert Durer, believed in fairies, and drove around in a Roman chariot. Ah, the good old days!!
A year after the museum purchased the work, Lucas’s son claimed that the bust was actually by his father and described how he helped create the work (using wood and paper to fill the inside of the sculpture), all of which seemed to be true. However, this did not sway Wilhelm Bode’s attribution, claiming that the wood and paper products were part of a 19th-century restoration.
Now, with the use of Carbon-14 dating, the mystery has been solved. The material used was spermaceti wax along with beeswax, seen in other 19th-century sculptures. The analysis determined that sculpture dates between 1704 and 1950 (a wide range), but since da Vinci died in 1519, there was no chance he created it.
At least one da Vinci debt has finally been settled.