Did Leonardo da Vinci Paint a First Mona Lisa Before The Mona Lisa?

Leonar­do da Vin­ci’s Mona Lisa has been called “the best known, the most vis­it­ed, the most writ­ten about, the most sung about, the most par­o­died work of art in the world.” (Did you catch the Lego Mona Lisa that made the rounds on the web last week?) Com­plet­ed in the ear­ly 16th cen­tu­ry, the paint­ing offers a por­trait of Lisa Gher­ar­di­ni, wife of a Flo­ren­tine cloth mer­chant named Francesco del Gio­cond. (Hence why the paint­ing is some­times called La Gio­con­da or La Joconde.) Today, the Renais­sance mas­ter­piece hangs in the Lou­vre in Paris, where it’s vis­it­ed by an esti­mat­ed six mil­lion peo­ple each year.

There’s no short­age of debates sur­round­ing the Mona Lisa. Was it com­plet­ed in 1506? Or is 1517 a more accu­rate date? Does the por­trait actu­al­ly fea­ture Lisa Gher­ar­di­ni? (Most art his­to­ri­ans think so, but schol­ars have spec­u­lat­ed about oth­er fig­ures, includ­ing Leonar­do’s own moth­er, Cate­ri­na.) And then there’s this big­ger ques­tion. Was da Vin­ci’s Mona Lisa his first Mona Lisa? That debate starts with a tan­ta­liz­ing piece of text writ­ten by the artist/art his­to­ri­an Gior­gio Vasari in his 16th cen­tu­ry book, The Lives of the Most Excel­lent Painters, Sculp­tors, and Archi­tects. In a sec­tion called “Life of Leonar­do da Vin­ci: Painter and Sculp­tor of Flo­rence,” Vasari wrote: “Leonar­do under­took to exe­cute, for Francesco del Gio­con­do, the por­trait of Mon­na Lisa, his wife; and after toil­ing over it for four years, he left it unfin­ished.…” And then Vasari attrib­uted to the por­trait some char­ac­ter­is­tics that don’t quite line up with the famous paint­ing hang­ing in the Lou­vre today — “rosy and pearly tints,” eyes that had a “lus­tre and watery sheen which are always seen in life,” a nose “with its beau­ti­ful nos­trils, rosy and ten­der,” etc. All of this left some to won­der: Was Vasari talk­ing about anoth­er paint­ing? Per­haps an ear­li­er, unfin­ished ver­sion of the Mona Lisa?


Enter The Mona Lisa Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it based in Switzer­land, that claims they’ve per­haps found an ear­li­er Mona Lisa. In an essay appear­ing on their web­site, and in a 20 minute video (top), the Foun­da­tion makes the case that “Isle­worth Mona Lisa” (right above) was prob­a­bly paint­ed by da Vin­ci around 1505, though nev­er com­plet­ed. Cen­turies lat­er the por­trait end­ed up in the hands of an Eng­lish col­lec­tor Hugh Blak­er, only to be then locked away in a Swiss vault for 40 years. It was final­ly brought out, and made avail­able to the pub­lic for the first time, in 2012.

Skep­tics have been quick to point out prob­lems with the “Isle­worth Mona Lisa.” Some note that it was paint­ed on can­vas, where­as Leonar­do typ­i­cal­ly paint­ed on wood. Oth­ers claim that x‑rays of the paint­ing call its authen­tic­i­ty into doubt. And then oth­ers sug­gest that the “Isle­worth Mona Lisa” is mere­ly a late 16th cen­tu­ry copy of the paint­ing now hang­ing in the Lou­vre. (The Mona Lisa Foun­da­tion web site doc­u­ments the skep­ti­cal claims and offers a rebut­tal for reach.)

To be sure, the Isle­worth Mona Lisa has its crit­ics, but it also has some sup­port­ers. In Sep­tem­ber 2012, the Swiss Fed­er­al Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in Zurich car­ried out car­bon-dat­ing tests on the can­vas and con­firmed that it was like­ly man­u­fac­tured between 1410 and 1455, which helped refute claims that the paint­ing was a late 16th cen­tu­ry copy. Mean­while, John Asmus, a UCSD physics pro­fes­sor who “intro­duced the use of holog­ra­phy, lasers, ultra­son­ic imag­ing, dig­i­tal image pro­cess­ing, and nuclear mag­net­ic res­o­nance to art-con­ser­va­tion prac­tice,” car­ried out a brush­stroke analy­sis and con­clud­ed that “the same con­struc­tion prin­ci­ples” were used in the design of both Mona Lisas, increas­ing the like­li­hood that they were cre­at­ed by the same artist. And final­ly, Joe Mullins, a foren­sic spe­cial­ist trained at the FBI, “age regressed” the orig­i­nal Mona Lisa to see what she would have looked like at an ear­li­er point in time. His con­clu­sion? “Every­thing lined up per­fect­ly.” “This is Mona Lisa, two dif­fer­ent images at two dif­fer­ent times in her life.”

But still, skep­tics cer­tain­ly remain.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

NASA Sends Image of the Mona Lisa to the Moon and Back

Watch Leonar­do da Vinci’s Musi­cal Inven­tion, the Vio­la Organ­ista, Being Played for the Very First Time

The Anatom­i­cal Draw­ings of Renais­sance Man, Leonar­do da Vin­ci

What Leonar­do da Vin­ci Real­ly Looked Like

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  • Nihilist says:

    da vin­ci, like tes­la chan­neled the ener­gy of the uni­verse. both deep deep guys…

  • lol says:

    leonar­do could have paint­ed the mona lisa more than once to get prac­tice and made a final project for some impor­tant rea­son no one will ever no because this life is not life there is no life this is an illu­ci­na­tion

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