The portrait, called the Monna Vanna, was attributed to a student of Leonardo's. Its striking resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa, however, has led people to wonder just how much Leonardo participated in the creation of the Monna Vanna portrait.
Image via AFP / Alamy
The Monna Vanna is a charcoal sketch of a semi-nude woman with a very familiar half-smile. Even the positioning of her arms and hands are similar to the positioning of the Mona Lisa's arms and hands. Starting from the 20th century, it was believed that Andrea Salai, one of Leonardo's students, was the one that drew the charcoal portrait. The drawing was from the same period as the Mona Lisa, and it definitely came from Leonardo's studio. However, it may be that the old master himself was the one that created the drawing, or at least contributed to it to a certain extent.
The Monna Vanna [Image via Fine Art Images/Heritage Images, Getty Images]
"The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable," says Mathieu Deldicque, curator of the Musée Condé. "It is not a pale copy. We are looking at something which was worked on in parallel with the Mona Lisa at the end of Leonardo's life.” It's also quite likely that the drawing was the bare bones of what could have been an oil painting.
Deldicque also points out that there are small piercings around the figure of the Monna Vanna. The holes could have been used to trace the figure on to a canvas. Another thing that makes the drawing similar to the Mona Lisa is that both portraits are nearly the same size.
The Monna Vanna has been housed at the Musée Condé since 1862. The museum is planning an exhibit set for 2019, the year on which Leonardo's 500th death anniversary will fall. Experts are trying to find out once and for all who really drew the portrait ahead of the exhibit's opening.
While it's possible that Leonardo contributed to the Monna Vanna in some way, experts say that it's unlikely that he drew the entire thing. Louvre conservation expert Bruno Mottin says that the hatching near the figure's head was done by a right-handed person, while Leonardo was left-handed.
Researchers study the Monna Vanna [Photo by Domaine de Chantilly]
Various analyses by art experts and scientists have been done on the Monna Vanna. Scientists have determined that the Monna Vanna was drawn at the beginning of the 16th century, during Leonardo's lifetime. They've also determined that the paper used for the drawing was made somewhere between Florence and Venice. Deldicque also adds that the Monna Vanna's hands are similar to those of the Mona Lisa's first version.
Researchers may keep the Monna Vanna for another month for more tests and analyses. However, it's unlikely that we'll hear anything conclusive any time soon. Deldicque is trying to cultivate an air of mystery around the drawing in the lead up to the exhibit honoring Leonardo's 500th death anniversary.
Scientists and experts may be able to solve the mystery behind the creation of the Monna Vanna, but it's unlikely that they'll be able to solve the mystery behind that Mona Lisa smile.
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