Can you tell which Mona Lisa this is?
Mona Lisa's Twin
Everywhere around the world, no smile is more familiar than Mona Lisa’s. Seductive, forbidding, mysterious—the mouth of Lisa del Giocondo seems to betray something yet reveals nothing at the same time. As a subject she bears no forceful gestures or strong gazes associated with a woman with high status. Instead she sits in a quiet repose, beseeching us with her worldly eyes and hint of a smile, holding on to a secret only she knows.
Da Vinci enjoyed a thriving studio filled with an army of students, and yet surprisingly, only fifteen produced paintings are known in existence. Of those fifteen paintings, the Mona Lisa holds the title of “The World’s Most Famous”, but this wasn’t always the case.
If it weren’t for a patriotic Italian named Vincenzo Peruggia, who stole painting right off the Louvre Museum’s wall in 1911, the Mona Lisa might have faded into the carpet of other Renaissance portraits, never to experience the high fame she receives today.
But what if Mona Lisa had an identical twin sister painting? A painting that was more talked about than original?
You’d probably assume it was a hoax and chalk it up to art world gossip. And yet when the Ilesworth Mona Lisa was recognized in the Somerset home of a British aristocrat in 1913, a fire was ignited and scholars began debating her legitimacy ever since.
Backed by a team of experts and sophisticated scientific techniques, the Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation concluded Leonardo Da Vinci had in fact painted two portraits of Lisa Del Giocondo. Even more surprising, forensic evidence determined both paintings were made roughly fourteen years apart.
One look at the two paintings and a casual observer will notice striking similarities distinctive of Da Vinci’s signature style. Both women display the same alluring eyes, softly shaped noses and dark hair, but the similarities end there. The Ilesworth Mona Lisa’s dewy skin and rounded cheeks make her appear years younger and her smile reveals a girlish side.
Photo © Associated Press
Since the Renaissance erupted in Florence in the 16th century, sources have claimed Da Vinci painted two versions of the Mona Lisa. One portrait, the Ilesworth Mona Lisa, was a commission made for Mona Lisa's husband---a wealthy silk clothing merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. The second portrait, completed fourteen years later, was for Leonardo’s patron, Guiliano de Medici, which now hangs on the Louvre’s wall.
While skeptics have scoffed at the idea of two Mona Lisa’s in the world, the Mona Lisa Foundation is firm in their findings. “Not one piece of scientific evidence has so far been able to prove definitively that this is not a Leonardo Da Vinci,” said art historian and foundation member, Stanley Feldman, when the news was unveiled several years ago.
“We have investigated this painting from every relevant angle and the accumulated information all points to it being an earlier version of La Giaconda [Mona Lisa] in the Louvre.”
Art history critics such as Oxford University professor, Mr. Kemper, believes the work is a forgery despite not seeing the painting in person. When Time Magazine published a piece in 2012 about the discovery, Kemper wrote, “The Ilesworth Mona Lisa mistranslates 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.”
While the Mona Lisa Foundation admits the Ilesworth Mona Lisa appears unfinished and painted by more than just Da Vinci’s hand, their thirty-five years of extensive research on the matter confidently concludes the second painting is a genuine Leonardo da Vinci.
“The Isleworth Mona Lisa is an important work of art deserving respect and strong consideration,” Alessandro Vezzosi, director of Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, told the Associated Press at the time of the unveiling.
Regardless of what side of the controversial painting you believe, a beautiful work of art has been resurrected from obscurity and brought back into the light, just as Da Vinci intended it to be. Great art, regardless of its provenance, is meant to be seen and appreciated. Just like the younger Mona Lisa’s smile—the sight of a new art treasure has made the world a whole lot happier. Thank you, Mr. Da Vinci.