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Carbon dating, conducted by a mass spectrometry laboratory at the University of Arizona, has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted between 14.

But there needs to be further analysis to determine whether certain elements of the portrait — notably a golden tiara on the noblewoman’s head and a palm leaf held in her hand like a sceptre — were the work of Leonardo or one of his pupils, Prof Pedretti said.

But he raised doubts about whether the painting was really the work of Leonardo.

The portrait found in Switzerland is painted on canvas, whereas Leonardo favoured wooden boards.

“There are no doubts that the portrait is the work of Leonardo,” Prof Pedretti, a recognised expert in authenticating disputed works by da Vinci, told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Charcoal can produce lines that are very light or intensely black, while being easily removable, yet vulnerable to leaving stains on paper.

“Canvas was not used by Leonardo or anyone in his production line,” Prof Kemp told The Daily Telegraph.

“Although with Leonardo, the one thing I have learnt is never to be surprised.” There are further doubts – Leonardo gave away his original sketch to the marquesa, so he would not have been able to refer to it later in order to paint a full oil version.

There are wide variations in artists' charcoal, depending on the proportion of ingredients: compressed charcoal from burned birch, clay, lamp black pigment, and a small quantity of ultramarine.

The longer this mixture is heated, the softer it becomes.

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