Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hot of the Presses: Major Mona Lisa news

There is a new, super exciting, art history story in the news these days.  Have you heard?  A second Mona Lisa has been found in the vaults of the Prado.  This second painting is not a fake or a copy made by some talented but crooked art scammer, it was painted simultaneously with the "original", in Leonardo da Vinci's studio.  (Sorry for all the bolded words -this is just really exciting!)

Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa from the Louvre 1492-1519, and Leonardo's apprentices? Mona Lisa from the Prado 1492-1519, details [image source]

The work had been stuck in a vault a long time ago.  The painting was old and dusty, and the background which matches the Louvre Mona Lisa had been painted over for unknown reasons with black, so art historians did not notice its importance until recently.

But now, the layer of black paint over the background has been removed by art restoration experts.  The painting was carefully analyzed (with scientific techniques of which I am regretfully rather ignorant), and art historians are quite sure it was painted at the same time as the other Mona Lisa.  They theorize that both works were painted on easels next to each other, and evolved together, the apprentices carefully following the work of Leonardo.

What does this mean?
- Well, that we to take a closer look at the workings of Leonardo's studio practices.  We know it was standard in the Renaissance for masters to have a whole slew of apprentices who did a lot for the success of the studio, from cleaning up, to mixing paint, to painting the less important parts of major paintings. But allowing them to make a project on the same level as the master?  This is something unexpected.
- The new find also changes our understanding of the the Louvre Mona Lisa. We know the painting's colors have aged.  Maybe its yellows and browns were originally more like the Prado Mona Lisa in color scheme.
- Finally, it brings up major questions about originals and copies.  These were made simultaneously, so one is not really a copy of the other.  But the Louvre Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous, prized painting in western art.  Should this other Mona Lisa also be given such an exalted status, or does this new find call into question the status of the Louvre Mona Lisa?

Keep up with this exciting story:
The story in: daily mail
The story in: New York Times blog
The story in: LA Times blog


  1. Truly AMAZING and she is BEAUTIFUL!!! We saw her at the Louvre and would love to go again. The new one which was found, is so much brighter and colorful. I am still partial to the one exibited, much more muted and olde world. Enjoying your new blog and learning more about art history...thank you my sweet teacher, Alexis!
    love you!

    1. I'm so glad you're reading it! I too really want to see the Louvre Mona Lisa again. I remember being frustrated because there was such a large crowd around the painting that I couldn't get as good a look as I wanted.