Have you cleaned your closet or attic lately? Did you happen to find a painting by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci laying next to your trunk of old family memorabilia? No? Well this is exactly what happened to Fiona McLaren. In the 1960’s Fiona’s father, George McLaren, was given a painting as a gift from one of his patients, which was kept at the McLaren home in Scotland and where the painting has remained for the past 50 years. Not thinking much of the painting all of these years, but having fallen on some difficult financial times, Fiona decided to take the piece to Sotheby’s for an appraisal. And it’s a good thing she did, the painting is believed to be a 500-year-old work by Leonardo da Vinci, and could be worth $150 million dollars if authenticated.

Currently, the painting is being analyzed at the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge, where they are attempting to uncover the work’s exact age and origin. There has been some controversy regarding who is depicted in the painting. Some experts have suggested that the woman in the portrait resembles two very well known biblical Mary’s. One camp sees a resemblance to da Vinci’s “Madonna of the Rocks“, otherwise known as the Virgin Mary. The other camp sees a likeness to a traced figure in  da Vinci’s “Last Supper,”alluding to Mary Magdalene.

Adding fuel to the latter theory, a papal bull (type of letter or charter issued by a Pope), originated from Pope Paul V in the early 17th century, was found attached to the back of the painting. According to Ms. McLaren, the word “Magdalene” was visible on the paper, lending credence to the theory that the woman in the painting may actually be Mary Magdalene. This is what Ms. McLaren believes and has documented it in her book, da Vinci’s Last Commission, which chronicles her personal journey in solving the mystery of the painting as well as her own assessments about the portrait. Oh the scandal!

According to the experts at the University of Cambridge, they expect to have the painting’s authentication resolved in about a year, but it is unlikely they will ever confirm whether it is the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene in the portrait. A mystery that will forever be controversial. Ms. McLaren hopes to sell the painting to a museum, and plans to donate a percentage of the profits to charity. We on the other hand will be scrounging around our homes looking for our own masterpieces.


About Fiona McLaren
Fiona McLaren was a registered nurse until she switched her career path to the advertising and marketing industry. In the 1980’s she became passionate about the environment, inspiring her to become a writer/reporter. She relocated from Scotland to the south of France in the 1990’s where she continues to work as a researcher for television.

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