An engraving of a man playing a string instrument has been identified as a portrait of the great artist Leonardo da Vinci. Only two other contemporary portraits are known to exist. 

The find is the work of Ross Duffin, a music professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of art history at Oxford University and renowned expert on Leonardo said: “This is serious and stands some chance of being right.”

The engraving belongs to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and entered the collection in the 1930s. It was believed for a long time to be Orpheus. Titled ‘Orpheus Charming the Animals’, it was thought to have been created in 1505 by an artist called Marcantonio Raimondi.

But Duffin realised that the Orpheus is normally shown as a “clean-shaven youth”, whereas the man in the engraving is  “late middle age, with a beard and centrally parted hair with long curls”. The portrait bears similarities to that done by Francesco Melzi, a member of Leonardo’s household and the artist’s principal heir.

The most important discovery is the identification of the instrument the man is playing is a lira da braccio, a string instrument that Leonardo is known to have played.

Both Kemp and Duffin are unsure if Raimondi and Leonardo actually met. Duffin said: “We do not know for certain whether Marcantonio crossed paths with Leonardo, but his engraving of ‘Orpheus Charming the Animals’ seems clearly to be an homage, intended to honor the musical skill of Leonardo da Vinci by depicting him with the instrument he was known to play incomparably, and which he shared with the greatest of all musicians.”