The painting of the middle aged man with a long nose, gray hair and limp mustache could be of anyone. Perhaps even Leonardo da Vinci.

A 14-member team of experts, including Dr. David L. Bershad, is determining if the portrait is an authentic self portrait of da Vinci.

An art history professor at St. Mary’s University College and the University of Calgary, Bershad — who was named one of Canada’s outstanding teachers in Maclean magazine’s Teaching Supplement — is the only North American member of the team. He is considered a world authority on 17th century Italian art.


Currently in Chieti, Italy, the team headed by Dr. Luigi Capasso officially unveiled the painting May 8 during a conference at the Biomedical Science Museum at the University of Chieti.

The 24-by-17 inch Acerenza Portrait shows a man softly smiling with his eyes looking away from the viewer.

The painting was discovered by medieval historian Nicola Barbatelli in an anonymous Acerenza home. Originally it was thought the astronomer Galileo Galilei was the man in the black hat. However, Barbatelli believes it to be a self portrait of da Vinci as the artist’s trademark, “pinxit mea” written in reverse, appear on the back of the panel. However, there is argument that the inscription may have been a later addition.

Alessandro Vezzosi, director of Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, reportedly said that he does not believe the painting is of the famous artist.

Bershad’s expertise will help determine if this is the second known self portrait of da Vinci — the first being a chalk sketch from 1512 that is widely accepted as authentic.

His influence on students at the University of Calgary has been extensive, said a school spokesperson. His numerous awards and distinctions are a compliment to his teaching abilities, the official said.

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