A drawing of rocks by Leonardo in the Royal Collection provides evidence that the artist worked on the portrait for much longer than the dates officially given by the Louvre
Leonardo’s Mona Lisa was probably completed a decade later than the date given by the Louvre. This radical redating follows conservation work on the Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa.
The Louvre dates the Mona Lisa to 1503-06. It has now been realised, however, that part of the painted background was based on a drawing of rocks that Leonardo made in 1510-15.
The link between the drawing and the landscape in the Madrid copy was spotted by the Prado’s technical specialist, Ana González Mozo. This emerged during an investigation of the background in the copy, which had been overpainted in black in the second half of the 18th century. The overpaint was removed earlier this year.
When the Prado copy was being studied, infrared images revealed that a section of the original design for the rocks beneath the paint surface had been based on a drawing now in the Royal Collection. Martin Clayton, the senior curator at the Windsor print room, dates the drawing to 1510-15 on stylistic grounds.
The Prado copy of the Mona Lisa was worked on side by side with the Louvre painting, so this connection has important implications for the dating of Leonardo’s original.
Louvre specialists went back to photographs taken of the original Mona Lisa in 2004. They realised that the design for part of the rocks on the right side in the Prado copy also appears in the underdrawing of the original, in a blurred form. This can just be made out in an emissiograph, an image made using an x-ray technique.
It is known that Leonardo had begun the Mona Lisa by 1503, since that year it was recorded in a note by a senior Florentine official, Agostino Vespucci. What remains controversial is the date of its completion.
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