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TED2008: Leonardo’s face

A three minute talk introduces us to an amazing mystery story. Portraiture artist Sigfried Woldhek has been trying to figure out what Leonardo da Vinci’s face looked like. There are, obviously, no photos. But there’s also no paintings that are known to be of Leonardo’s face. Given Leonardo’s incredible talents at sketching the human form, it seems remarkable that he never would have sketched his own face.

So Woldhek looked at 120 faces drawn by Leonardo. The only ones useful were those “en face” or frontal, which reduced the set to study. He discarded blurry faces, and then dismissed caricatures and ugly faces, as Leonardo is known for being very beautiful. He ended up focusing on three images – a young man, the famous Homo Sapiens drawing (a man in a circle), and the picture of an old man.

They’re clearly the same person, and the dates they were created – 1485, 1490, 1513 – correspond with Leonardo’s own life. And they match the one known portrait of Leonardo, a sculpture. And now, we know what Leonardo looked like – this research has yet to be released, but has been introduced for the first time to TED.