Posted by: Valentino Radman | February 2, 2012

Oldest known copy of the ‘Mona Lisa’ (re)discovered in Spain

Conservators at the Prado in Madrid recently made an astonishing discovery. They announced yesterday that the painting assumed to be a replica of the Mona Lisa, had actually been painted by one of his key pupils, working alongside the master. The picture is more than just a studio copy – it changed as Leonardo developed his original composition.

The so-called “Mona Lisa of the Prado” has long been in the museum’s collection, tucked away in its vaults and displayed only occasionally, its significance not fully understood. The experts thought it was painted by some Dutch artist because they assumed it was painted on oak (a wood not used by Florentine painters), but actually it was painted on walnut. In size, it is close to that of the original: the Louvre’s painting is 77cm x 53cm and the Prado’s copy 76cm x 57cm.

Although part of the Royal Collection and recognized as a copy of the Mona Lisa, the background had been painted over in black for unknown reasons sometime in the late 18th century, therefore ruining the aesthetic and disguising its importance. As the later paint layers were stripped away, the appearance of a Tuscan landscape in remarkable condition and of such striking resemblance to the original led to further investigations being made.

Infrared tests yielded an even bigger surprise: Sketch marks known as underdrawings mirrored those on Leonardo’s panel, suggesting that the painter of the replica had worked alongside the Renaissance master. Among the many apprentices da Vinci took under his wing throughout his career, he had particularly close relationships with aspiring artists Francesco Melzi and Andrea Salai; the latter even inherited the “Mona Lisa” after his mentor’s death. Experts have named both men as potential painters of the Prado copy.

The replica provides clearer details of features obscured in the original, notably frilly edging on the neckline of Mona Lisa’s garment, a sheer veil draped across her left shoulder, arm and elbow, and a sharper depiction of the spindles of the chair in which she is seated. The original Mona Lisa has lost a lot of its colour, which is why it has that dark-brown, honeyed quality to it. The deterioration is probably down to Leonardo’s painstaking technique, which involved building up the paint in infinitely thin layers, over a matter of years; it is also covered by layers of varnish that have badly discoloured, making the woman appear much older than her true age. Because of its fragility, cleaning and restoration has long been considered to be too risky. Art historians believe the Prado’s Mona Lisa reveals her as she would have looked at the time – a radiant young woman in her early 20s.


The “Mona Lisa” is believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who lived in Florence around the start of the 16th century. The Prado plans to display its find this month before sending it to Paris to hang side by side with the original, at a Leonardo exhibit in March.



  1. The copy looks like an authentic Renaissance painting; the original looks like it’s been hanging in a smoky bar or pub.

    • 🙂 Yes, but don’t forget that old varnish in the original painting has yellowed significantly. Restorers do not wish to remove it out of fear that they would ruin the uppermost paint layer which is extremely delicate. Besides, Leonardo used fugitive reddish pigment in the cheeks and hands which disappeared in the meantime (he did paint her eyebrows, btw). In addition, king Francois I hang Mona Lisa in his bathroom in the palace at Fontainebleau for a couple of years. The original is actually, remarkably well preserved, restorers say.

  2. Why two simultaneous copies? I think the answer might be found in “Leonardo’s Val di Chiana Map in the Mona Lisa”, in the peer-reviewed journal, Cartographica, 46:3, 2011. Two copies, juxtaposed, would align to reveal a new landscape that matches Leonardo’s Val di Chiana map. The arrangement proves auto-stereoscopic and fits with a drawing illustrating stereopsis that is found in his Notebooks.

  3. This painting is extremely important, but it puzzles me why it has not gotten due recognition years ago. It is one of the better known period copies out there.

    The colors in her garments prove that she is a member of the powerful Italian Sforza-Visconti dynasty. Leonardo was a court painter for the Milanese noble house for over 17 years. The long veil she is wearing is worn ONLY and specifically by the Milanese duchesses in mourning. There were only 4 Duchesses before the French overthrew the Milanese. Three were blond. Her identity is without dispute: Isabella of Aragon, daughter of King Alfonso II of Naples, and the young widow of Gian Galeazzo II Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan.


    Many people think the sitter in the painting is Leonardo or Gian Giacomo Caprotti, called Salai. If the sitter in the painting was really Salai or Leonardo in drag, why did not the French King, who became the owner of the painting and knew Leonardo’s face, make this conclusion? Why would he even want to own such a rediculous painting? Leonardo had just been aquitted of sodomy, why then would he paint himself in a dress? These assumptions were only started by 19th century biographers and pycho-analyst, and are now, in the 21st century accepted as politically correct facts though unsubstantiated by historical facts.

    Neither is she the silk merchant’s wife. The myth of the silk merchant’s wife was fabricated to conceal her true identity and protect the honor of those involved. Ask yourself, ‘Is there any historical record of the Gherardini family legally claiming rightful ownership of this painting? Why didn’t Leonardo will this painting to the Gherardini family? Why did the many copies that were made during this time period end up only in noble houses in Italy and allying countries if she were merely a silk-merchant’s wife?

    The mystery was solved 10 yrs ago, by historian and author Maike Vogt-Luerssen. It is time to stop the lies of the world’s most famous painting.

    If you are tired of this long draw-out never-ending mystery and want true answers of Leonardo’s EPIC life, based in 100′s of historical facts and visual evidences left in the paintings of his closest contemporaries see the above website and follow the facebook link. – in English and German.

    You might ask, “Why isn’t this common knowledge? Why have I (possibly) never heard of this before?” answer: Because the influential art historians and DaVinci ‘experts’ are less than willing to see the research of Mrs. Vogt-Luerssen widely accepted because it does not serve their own interest. Neither are they willing to admit that they have been on the wrong track.

    There is an Italian 16th century copy that needs “discovering” too. It is my hope that many vital proofs will come forward that will prove to be further evidences into the true meaning and history of this painting and its painter. . To see the 16th C Italian copy, See: (be sure to click the picture and select #17)

    Thank you

  4. so decent

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