Spanish art curators have identified what they believe is the earliest copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. They say that it was likely painted in da Vinci's workshop at the same time as the original.
A Mona Lisa copy owned by Spain's Prado Museum was almost certainly painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci's apprentices. And, what's more, it all occurred under the watchful eye of the master himself, officials at the Madrid-based museum say.
Miguel Falomir, curator of Italian painting at the Prado, said that expert analysis on the piece, including the use of infrared scanning, suggests that "the painting was done in the painter's own workshop.
"It is absolutely consistent with Leonardo's work," he added. But, Falomir is convinced, "It is a work in which Leonardo himself did not intervene."
Falomir believes that the style of painting used belongs to Francesco Melzi, one of da Vinci's apprentices at the time.
A bright discovery
The piece has actually been in the possession of the Prado museum for some years, but only two years ago a dark layer of paint was removed off the landscape surrounding the portrait. The coat had been added to the work in the 18th century, for reasons that are unclear.
The restored copy shows a bright-faced, radiant Mona Lisa who looks younger than the woman who is on display in the Louvre today. This is mainly due to the cleaner nature of the image.
Gabriele Finalidi, the Prado museum's deputy director of collections, said that "you can imagine that this is what the Mona Lisa looked like back in the 16th century." The hills and grass in the background are noticeably lusher.
Best known painting in the world
Painted in 1505, art experts believe the woman in the painting to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo.
Gherardini is thought to have been a neighbor of the da Vinci family - although theories abound that she was either a famous noblewoman or lover of Leonardo's.
The Prado painting will go on show at the Louvre in Paris alongside the original from March 26 this year, as part of the museum's Leonardo's Final Masterpiece exhibition.
Author: André Leslie (AFP, AP)
Editor: Kate Bowen