Archive for October, 2012

Two Mona Lisas—Art Forensics

Monday, October 1st, 2012

The Louvre's Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa is the most recognized face in the world.

It seems we actually have two portraits of her. One when she was in her twenties, and one, the one hanging in the Louvre, when she was in her thirties. There is a current video, beautifully done, outlining the art sleuthing which has documented the early portrait of the younger woman, Mona Lisa: Leonardo’s Earlier Version.

Take 21 minutes and look at this terrific account which traces the early portrait from Italy to England to America to Switzerland. It shows not only who possessed the portrait, but how it came to be, and the video is a brief look at the art forensics involved.

One of the methods of verifying the authenticity of a painting is Connoisseurship, the opinion of someone who has looked long and hard at an artist and his work and “sees” either an authentic or fake hand at work. A second forensic method is scientific analysis that can identify exact pigments used, x-ray a painting to see underneath the finished form, authenticate the date of varnish, compare brush strokes with known works, date canvas, date frames, and more. The third method is finding the paper trail—who owned the painting, who bought the painting, where has it been.

Sound like detective reality and fiction writer’s plot. It is.

In this video, the Mona Lisa Foundation presents a paper trail which includes comments by Leonardo’s contemporaries; a sketch by Raphael; the date, 1508,  of a varnishing technique used by Leonardo; current analysis using modern research equipment; and a careful history of where this second Mona Lisa has been hiding. It also presents a side-by-side comparison of the Louvre’s “older” Mona Lisa with the portrait of the younger Mona Lisa.

There are, of course, many books on Mona Lisa. One that I like is R. A. Scotti’s Vanished Smile, The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa. It’s a fast read about the 1911 theft of the painting from the Louvre.

But the video is a beautiful 21 minutes.