The Curious Case of a Misidentified Portrait of Anne Boleyn

by Heather R. Darsie

On 13 April 1929, the Supreme Court of New York heard the curious case of Hahn v. Duveen, in which an art collector  named Mrs. Andree Hahn sued an art dealer named Sir Joseph Duveen for slander. At the heart of the issue was an alleged original painting which Ms. Hahn stated depicted Anne Boleyn and was painted by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The painting was described for the Louvre’s records in the 18th century as, “This lady is dressed in a red bodice, with sleeves of the same color, attached with green cords; her hair is dressed short and smooth; her collar is trimmed with a cord; she holds a piece of mesh lace and her forehead is encircled by a black cord with a diamond in the centre. The figure has before her a stone support,” and that a person who was part of the Hotel of the Surintendence named du Rameau stated in 1784 that tis very portriat was of, “Anne Boleyn and declares it to be in ‘good condition’ (D. R.).”

La Belle Ferroniere, sitter unknown, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci c. 1490-1496, via Wikimedia Commons.

At a point before or in 1920, Mrs. Hahn was trying to sell what she believed was a da Vinci original portrait of Anne Boleyn to the Kansas City Art Museum. Sir Duveen, a very respected art dealer,  made a comment to the New York World  that the painting was a copy of one still hanging in the Louvre. What was this mysterious painting? La Belle Ferroniere, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and painted between 1490 and 1496, before Anne Boleyn was ever born. Mrs. Hahn was absolutely convinced that what she had in her possession was the original, and that it had somehow left the Louvre before coming to her hands. Perhaps she believed that the portrait was spirited out of the Louvre before the French Revolution.

The case caused a huge stir because Sir Duveen had only viewed photographs of the alleged da Vinci. He also firmly believed that the real painting, which decidedly was not of Anne Boleyn, still hung in the Louvre in Paris. On top of that, jurors would have had a hard time legally determining whether Hahn’s portrait was a da Vinci original, let alone of whom, because it was unlikely that anyone on the jury would be an expert in 16th century art, 16th century history, or an art historian. Ultimately, the case settled for the then princely sum of $60,000. Hahn’s copy of La Belle Ferronierei  was finally sold at auction via Sotheby’s in 2010.

The original La Belle Ferroniere is now on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Update, 5/21/19: Art historian Melanie V . Taylor has shared with me that, “Various academics believe this portrait is of Beatrice d’Este, maried to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Mrs. Hahn is a prime example of someone convinced that the painting they own being something it isn’t — the Salvator Mundi is another prime example, and that costs its owner £450m in November 2017.” For more on the Salvator Mundi, please visit Ms. Taylor’s website.

Love learning about the Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

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Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Hahn v. Duveen, 133 Misc. 871, 234 N.Y.S. 185, 1929 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 756.

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