The Truth About The Tiny Da Vinci Drawing That Could Sell For $16 Million

A tiny sketch of a bear penned by Leonardo da Vinci is expected to go up for auction on July 8, 2021, according to CNN. The small scrap of paper, measuring roughly 3 inches by 3 inches, is remarkably straightforward in its simplicity: it's a sketch of a bear, on plain beige paper, made utilizing a process the old master learned at some point in his career.

However, the postcard-sized scrap of paper is no mere footnote in art history. Rather, it's an exceptionally rare and prized peek into da Vinci's process and career, one that has been passed back and forth among the few private collectors that have managed to get their hands on an original da Vinci sketch.

Indeed, the piece is expected to bring in millions — possibly as many as 16 of them — when it goes up for auction later this summer.

An exceptionally rare case of a da Vinci in private hands

Among the incalculable number of scraps of Leonardo da Vinci's career — a painting here, a sculpture there, a drawing there — almost all of them are held in various archives and museums. Indeed, according to CNN, only eight such pieces are known to be held privately.

One of those pieces, according to Christie's Auction House, is known simply as "Head of a Bear."

As CNN reported, the art world has known about the sketch for centuries, and indeed, it's even been auctioned off before — including at least once by none other than Christie's, the auction house that is scheduled to offer the piece this summer. At the time (1860), the piece brought in a staggering £2.50 (which is around $439 in today's money).

Of course, when the piece goes up for auction in July, it's expected to bring in a hair more than $439.

An exacting technique

It's not just the sketch's rarity that is expected to make it a highly sought-after addition to any art collector's stash. It also represents a specific point in da Vinci's career. Specifically, as CNN reports, the bear drawing was created using a technique known as "silverpoint," and was taught to da Vinci by his master, Andrea del Verrocchio.

According to Artists and Illustrators, the Renaissance-era technique involves drawing on a piece of paper and then treating it with chemicals. There is little margin for error. "Silverpoint is an incredibly sensitive and delicate medium, and drawing with the lightest and most fluid of touches will make a mark on the page," the website notes.

Meanwhile, the drawing also represents da Vinci's not-infrequent forays into drawing animals. The famed artist, known best for anatomical sketches and depictions of humans (as saints, in biblical scenes, etc.), also depicted cats and dogs from time to time, and at least one other depiction of a bear.

Breaking records

Officials at Christie's, the famed London auction house that has built its business on eight-figure sales, are keen to see the da Vinci sketch bring a record price. Stijn Alsteens, International Head of the Old Masters Group Department at Christie's Paris, said in a statement via Reuters that he's expecting to shatter the previous record for a Leonardo piece ($11.2 million).

"I have every reason to believe we will achieve a new record in July for 'Head of a Bear,' one of the last drawings by Leonardo that can be expected to come onto the market," he said.

However, that would not be the highest auction price ever paid for a piece composed by one of the Renaissance-era "Old Masters," as they're called. That honor, according to CNN, belongs to "Head of a Muse," a Raphael piece that sold for almost $49 million at Christie's in London in 2009.