Digging History

Younger, happier Mona Lisa painted 10 years earlier, experts believe

Cropped pictures of the Isleworth Mona Lisa (left) and the Louvre Mona Lisa (right).

Cropped pictures of the Isleworth Mona Lisa (left) and the Louvre Mona Lisa (right).  (Wikimedia Commons)

Leonardo da Vinci painted a younger and happier Mona Lisa some 10 years before painting the famous painting, art experts are claiming.

Slightly larger in size than the famous portrait,‭ ‬which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris,‭ ‬the painting features‭ ‬a darker tonality,‭ ‬a different and unfinished background framed by two columns,‭ ‬and‭ ‬shows a younger lady with a less enigmatic smile.

Known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa,‭ ‬the artwork will be unveiled in Geneva on Thursday by the Mona Lisa Foundation,‭ ‬a Zurich‭-based consortium which has‭ ‬kept the painting in a Swiss bank vault for‭ ‬40‭ ‬years.

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A‭ ‬320-page book will provide‭ "‬historical,‭ ‬comparative and scientific evidence‭" ‬to prove once and for all that the‭ ‬Isleworth work is an authentic Da Vinci artwork,‭ ‬a spokeman of the Swiss foundation said.

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Leading‭ ‬Da Vinci experts Alessandro Vezzosi,‭ ‬the director of the‭ ‬Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci,‭ ‬where Leonardo was born in‭ ‬1452,‭ ‬and Carlo Pedretti of the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies at the University of California,‭ ‬will‭ ‬discuss the claim.

They have made no attribution to Da Vinci,‭ ‬as they believe further study is needed.

Indeed,‭ ‬the painting's authenticity has been the subject of debate ever since the canvas was discovered‭ ‬in‭ ‬1913‭ ‬by English art collector Hugh Blaker.

He bought it from a noble family‭ ‬and took it to his studio in Isleworth,‭ ‬London‭ – ‬hence the name.

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In‭ ‬1915‭ ‬his stepfather‭ ‬John R.‭ ‬Eyre,‭ ‬an art historian,‭ ‬published‭ ‬a book‭ ‬suggesting that Leonardo painted two versions of‭ the ‬Mona Lisa‭ ‬and claiming that‭ ‬at least the bust,‭ ‬the face and the hands of the‭ ‬Isleworth lady‭ ‬were a genuine work by‭ ‬Leonardo Da Vinci‭ –- ‬basically,‭ ‬a‭ ‬prequel to his famous portrait.

Blaker then sold the painting‭ ‬to American collector Henry F. Pulitzer,‭ ‬who in turn left it to his girlfriend. On her death,‭ ‬it was bought by the Mona Lisa Foundation, a consortium of unnamed individuals.

Pulitzer carried out more in depth research on the painting and reinforced Eyre's theory in his‭ ‬1966‭ ‬book,‭ "Where is the Mona Lisa‭?‬"

He looked into the accounts of the‭ ‬16th century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari.

In his work‭ "‬Lives of the Artists,‭"‬ Vasari (1511–1574) named Lisa Gherardini,‭ ‬the wife of the wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo as the subject of the portrait and concluded that the‭ ‬work‭ ‬was painted‭ ‬by Leonardo‭ ‬between‭ ‬1503‭ ‬and‭ ‬1506.

‭ ‬"Toiling on it for four years,‭ ‬he left it unfinished,‭" ‬Vasari wrote.

As‭ ‬Da Vinci sold a fully finished Mona Lisa to King Francis I in‭ ‬1516‭, three years before his death, ‭‬supporters of the‭ ‬Isleworth work argue that the painting‭ ‬is‭ ‬ the unfinished‭ ‬Mona Lisa,‭ ‬partially made‭ ‬by Leonardo and originally handed over to‭ ‬the‭ ‬patron who had commissioned it.‭ ‬The Louvre masterpiece‭ ‬would then be a later version,‭ ‬made by Da Vinci for his own‭ ‬use.

To support the theory,‭ ‬Pulitzer‭ ‬references‭ ‬Giovanni Lomazzo,‭ ‬a biographer of artists,‭ ‬who in his‭ ‬1584‭ ‬Treatise on Painting referred to "the Gioconda,‭ ‬and the Mona Lisa‭."‬

Since‭ ‬La Gioconda is‭ ‬the Italian alternative name for the‭ ‬Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre,‭ ‬Lomazzo's reference would imply that there were two‭‭ ‬distinct and separate‭ ‬paintings.‭

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Pulitzer also focused on the columns which frame the‭ ‬Isleworth lady.‭ ‬Similar columns‭ ‬are also shown in a drawing by Raphael of the Mona Lisa.‭ ‬Now in the Louvre,‭ ‬the drawing was probably done from memory from Leonardo's original after Raphael visited the master studio in‭ ‬1504.

Moreover,‭ ‬Vasari's description of the Mona Lisa portrait as having‭ "a smile so pleasing‭" ‬was‭ ‬often‭ ‬quoted against the Louvre picture,‭ ‬of which the effect has been variously described as enigmatic,‭ ‬mysterious and baffling.

The Isleworth picture has a real smile,‭ ‬it was‭ ‬argued.‭

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But doubts about Vasari's attribution have persisted since he was known to rely on anecdotal evidence.‭ ‬The authenticity of the‭ ‬Isleworth Mona Lisa remained widey disputed among art historians. ‭

"‬So much is wrong.‭ ‬The dress,‭ ‬the hair and background landscape.‭ ‬This one is also painted on canvas,‭ ‬which Leonardo rarely did,‭" ‬Martin Kemp,‭ ‬emeritus professor of the history of art at Oxford,‭ ‬told The Sunday Times.

Like the majority of‭ ‬Leonardo's works,‭ ‬the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is‭ ‬painted on wood. ‭

"‬She might look younger but this is probably because the copyist,‭ ‬and I believe it is a copy done a few years after the Mona Lisa,‭ ‬just painted it that way,‭" ‬Kemp said.