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A restored apprentice's copy reveals what what the Mona Lisa looked like back in the 16th century
February 2, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

The Prado Museum in Madrid has what they had considered to be an inferior late-era replica of the Mona Lisa, a portrait surrounded by black. But when conservators compared infrared images of their copy with images taken in 2004 from the Leonardo's masterpiece, they found that the Prado replica closely resembled early under-drawings covered by the Mona Lisa everyone sees. Yesterday, Prado held a news conference to announce that their restoration efforts are nearly done and displayed the work in progress. The comparison is striking, showing details that might have been visible when the Mona Lisa was fresh, 500 years ago. The Guardian has more details and a high-detail portion of the apprentice's painting, believed to be by Francesco Melzi.

The restored colors are more vibrant than those of the possible true colors, as shown by a digital restoration company. And you can see the eyelashes and eyebrows, which probably existed on the original Mona Lisa, but have disappeared as the painting aged, according to Pascal Cotte, who presented his findings at the Secrets of Mona Lisa exhibit.

But which Mona Lisa imitator do you most trust – Leonardo's pupil, or Raphael?
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The art historian Bendor Grosvenor has a sceptical take on this story, pointing out that the Prado has yet to present any evidence.
posted by verstegan at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the one bit of this story that really isn't touched on by any of the linked articles: what are the considerations in taking a work of art and massively altering it in the name of restoration?

The completely removed the black over-painting, which I don't know anything about. Was it the intent of the original artist? Was it a later modification? I mean, they kind of just decided they didn't like it, and removed it!
posted by danny the boy at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2012


Wow, so they haven't released any details on how they've concluded that this painting is actually that old, or how they've authenticated it? That does seem more than a little fishy.
posted by koeselitz at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2012


Which one was the original?
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, verstegan, those are good questions raised by Grosvenor. The Art Newspaper includes more citations in support of the piece being authentic, from technical specialists and art experts, at least more expert than I am. There's also a reference to a technical paper on the newly restored piece:
In a paper presented two weeks ago at a technical conference at London’s National Gallery, coinciding with its exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” (until 5 February), conservators revealed that they had discovered that the black background was a later addition. This conference was not covered in the media (for a report, see our February print edition).
I'll admit I don't know how press releases happen, but it's odd that Prado would hold a busy-looking news conference with reporters weeks in advance of the final unveiling. The Guardian article says:
The story was broken by the The Art Newspaper yesterday, somewhat spoiling the Prado's intention to release the news to the world later this month when conservation was complete.
So would the reporters present stay mum for a few weeks? Did The Art Newspaper scoop everyone, leading everyone else to breaking their silence? I ask because I honestly don't know.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:40 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: Which one was the original?

I was actually looking for a comparison of later reproductions, but this story has overrun Google for any attempt to find Mona Lisa replica.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2012


charlie don't surf: "Which one was the original"

They can ALL be original if you have a time machine and a knife to threaten Leonardo with.
posted by charred husk at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume I'm not alone in feeling like the Mona Lisa is one of those works of art that has been reproduced so often in pop culture (postcards, mugs, calendars, children's cartoons, grade-school textbooks, etc., etc., etc.) that it becomes impossible to look at straight-on (to the extent that that's possible with any artwork).

I guess I'd be interested to hear someone talk about in what ways this apprentice's painting is not as masterful as Leonardo's.
posted by nobody at 3:05 PM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The portrait is lovely, whether the colors are exact or not. If this was a student of Da Vinci's, I admire his work. It makes you wonder why the artist would decide to cover up the background with black in the first place, though.

Of course, that will be the subject of the next Dan Brown conspiracy novel.
posted by misha at 3:09 PM on February 2, 2012


Also, I now find myself wanting to fold the original in thirds like a Mad magazine back cover, to discover the concealed "hidden image"!
posted by misha at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2012


It makes you wonder why the artist would decide to cover up the background with black in the first place, though.

I could have misread, but I thought one of the articles implied that the black was added years later (perhaps to better suit a wealthy owner's decor?) and that if that hadn't been determined they never would have restored the material underneath.

Also, I now find myself wanting to fold the original in thirds like a Mad magazine back cover, to discover the concealed "hidden image"!

Well, now that there are two of them...
posted by nobody at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2012


They can ALL be original if you have a time machine and a knife to threaten Leonardo with.

Yeah, but 6 of the originals have FAKE written in modern magic marker underneath the gesso.

Did The Art Newspaper scoop everyone, leading everyone else to breaking their silence? I ask because I honestly don't know.

Probably yes. The Art Newspaper really is one of the greatest trade papers in the world and has an astonishing ability to break stories from insider sources. I used to subscribe to it for years, it was the only printed magazine I subscribed to. I wish I could still afford it.

Anyway, this sort of story always bugs me. As one of the most recognized images in the world, La Gioconda is always used to publicize stupid ideas. Everyone wants da Vinci's reputation to rub off on them.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf, your stupid ideas link is awesome, if nothing else for a high quality image of the Museo del Prado's copy, before restoration.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:26 PM on February 2, 2012


Maybe this is modernist bias, but I think the image is way stronger with the black background
posted by Tom-B at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It really pains me every time I see "Mona" Lisa. To Italians, and I am one, "mona" is a nasty word. Leonardo would have said "Monna", which is short for Madonna, a very nice way to address a lady.
(got it off my chest, finally)
posted by francesca too at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can call me Lisa, or Mona if you're nasty.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2012


..a high quality image of the Museo del Prado's copy, before restoration

Hey, now that I see this hi rez image, I recognize that painting. Must have seen it in a textbook somewhere along the years.

But the stupid idea I am mostly referring to is that La Gioconda is a self portrait. They always show da Vinci's self-portrait in red chalk split screen with the painting, to show how they lined up. Well I am sorry, but that is not how it works. You can line up almost any of da Vinci's portraits and they line up. That's what his great innovation was, he systematized the proportions of the human body by dissecting and analyzing cadavers. Ever seen Vitruvian Man? That's what it's all about. da Vinci did this for the body, as well as facial dimensions. He used these basic proportions as a guideline, so it is not surprising that his portraits have exactly the same proportions.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:30 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Never a huge fan of the Mona Lisa, I find this restoration more appealing than the original.
posted by Jehan at 5:05 PM on February 2, 2012


Good heavens, Miss Gherardini...you're beautiful!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:56 PM on February 2, 2012


As far as I'm concerned, this is the original.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:15 PM on February 2, 2012


The Prado has now released its detailed arguments for believing that 'a member of Leonardo’s studio produced the Prado panel and that the copy and original were produced at the same time and in parallel'. Bendor Grosvenor is impressed, though still doubtful.
posted by verstegan at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2012


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