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'No basis' for 'original Mona Lisa' claim, says art historian
Matt Pickles | 27 Sep 12
A consortium has today unveiled what it claims to be Leonardo’s original painting of the Mona Lisa.
The Mona Lisa Foundation will present evidence for the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' having been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, saying they are backed up by art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Carlo Pedretti.
They claim it was painted a decade before the famous portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, who is thought to have sat for the painting which now sits in the Louvre between 1503 and 1506, based on regression tests, mathematical comparisons and historical and archival records.
But although this announcement is generating a lot of excitement, an Oxford University art historian is sceptical about the claims.
'The reliable primary evidence provides no basis for thinking that there was "an earlier" portrait of Lisa del Giocondo,' says Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of the History of Art.
'The Isleworth Mona Lisa miss-translates subtle details of the original, including the sitter's veil, her hair, the translucent layer of her dress, the structure of the hands. The landscape is devoid of atmospheric subtlety.
'The head, like all other copies, does not capture the profound elusiveness of the original.'
Much of the Foundation's claim rests on scientific analysis which produced deep images of the painting by infrared reflectology and X-ray but Professor Kemp says this evidence does not add up.
'The scientific analysis can at most state that there is nothing to say that this cannot be by Leonardo,’ he says. ‘The infrared reflectography and X-ray points very strongly to its not being by Leonardo.'
In fact, the X-ray and infrared images suggest the Isleworth Mona Lisa was painted after Leonardo’s famous portrait, contrary to the claims of the Foundation.
Professor Kemp explains: 'The images produced by infrared reflectography and X-ray are not all characteristic or what lies below Leonardo’s autograph paintings. We know that changes were made in the Louvre painting.
'The Isleworth picture follows the final state of the Louvre painting. It does not therefore precede the Louvre painting.'
Arts blog readers may not have access to infrared or X-ray technology, but they can judge the paintings for themselves (above).
Top image: Mona Lisa (left) and the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' (right); Bottom image: Visitors to the Louvre crowd around 'La Joconde'