A Swiss-based art foundation on Thursday unveiled what it argues is Leonardo da Vinci’s original Mona Lisa, backing its claim with evidence from a US research physicist, a forensic imaging specialist and a top Italian expert on the artist.
Members of the group told a packed Geneva news conference that the portrait of a woman who appears to be about 10 years younger than the sitter in the famous painting in the Louvre in Paris could only be the work of the Renaissance genius.
“The facts are overwhelming and clearly prove the authenticity of the masterpiece,” said Swiss lawyer Markus Frey, president of the private Mona Lisa Foundation, which insists it has no financial stake in the painting.
Stanley Feldman, an art historian and member of the group, said that critics who have rejected any suggestion the “younger” version could be by Leonardo had never seen it.
“It is absolutely clear that neither this nor the Louvre version are copies,” he said, in a clear response to British Leonardo authority Martin Kemp, who told a London newspaper last week “so much is wrong” with the foundation’s painting, including that it is painted on canvas and not on wood, the artist’s preferred medium. In a 300-page publication devoted to more than 30 years of research on what has long been known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, the foundation argues that it was painted between 1503 and 1505 in Florence and never finished.
Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Leonardo museum in Vinci, Italy, and a world-renowned expert on the artist, said he had long believed in the existence of two Mona Lisas.
The foundation’s version seemed likely to be the one that was recorded in a recently discovered document from 1503, Vezzosi said.
Slightly larger than the Paris portrait, it shows a woman in a identical pose, with the same enigmatic smile and geometric proportions.
John Asmus, a former space scientist from the University of California who has developed digitization techniques to study art works, said his studies indicated Leonardo also painted the “Isleworth” version.
Joe Mullins, an FBI-trained forensic imaging specialist, made a computerized version of the woman in the Paris portrait as she would have been 10 years earlier and found it almost identical to the new version.
Neither Vezzosi, Asmus or Mullins are members of the foundation.
The painting was commissioned from Leonardo by Florentine nobleman Francesco del Giacondo as a portrait of his wife, Lisa Gherardini.
Leonardo left Florence in 1506, apparently delivering the unfinished work to Giacondo before leaving, as documents record it was seen there about 30 years later.
According to backers of the “Younger” Mona Lisa, the Paris version was probably painted around 1516 when the painter left for France.
The “younger” version first surfaced in 1913 when British art connoisseur and painter Hugh Blaker found it in a manor house in western England.
For the next 20 years, it hung in his home in the London suburb of Isleworth, so gaining its name.
However, efforts by Blaker and subsequent owners to convince the art world at large of its authenticity failed.