PARIS – A French art expert believes a charcoal drawing kept in a collection for more than 150 years may be a preparatory sketch by Leonardo da Vinci for the “Mona Lisa.”
The black-and-white drawing of a woman nude from the waist up, known as the “Monna Vanna,” was previously attributed to Leonardo’s studio, suggesting it was done in his style by a pupil or follower, not by the master himself.
But after preliminary tests at the Louvre Museum, experts believe the sketch may well have been drawn by Leonardo.
Among the signs, according to curator Mathieu Deldicque, are the fact that the drawing was made during the same period as the “Mona Lisa,” the paper is from the same region of Italy and the technique is very similar to that of the “Mona Lisa.”
“We know the drawing was made during the lifetime of Leonardo da Vinci, we know that the paper was made in Italy, between Venice and Florence, and the third discovery is the high quality of this drawing in the face of the ‘Monna Vanna’ and in her arms,” Deldicque told reporters. He said the arms “are the same” as in the “Mona Lisa.”
Leonardo, who lived from 1452 to 1519, was an engineer, scientist, inventor and sculptor, as well as one of the finest artists of the Italian Renaissance.
He painted the “Mona Lisa,” also known as “La Gioconda” and regarded as the world’s most valuable artwork, at the beginning of the 16th century. It is believed to depict Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a successful merchant.
The charcoal portrait, in which the woman is holding a similar pose to the Mona Lisa but with her body more side-on and her head turned further over her left shoulder, has been held in a collection at the Conde Museum at the Palace of Chantilly, north of Paris, since 1862.
The “Mona Lisa” and “Monna Vanna” hold their hands in very similar ways: the right hand across the left and resting on the forearm, the fingers gently extended.
Deldicque said that while it is exciting to think the charcoal drawing was created by Leonardo, there are more tests to be done.
“We have one more month of analysis and then a very slow process of history of art with a collection of analysts and advice by specialists,” he said.
It is possible that process will determine that the authorship is the same. But it may also be inconclusive, he said. “Maybe the mystery will remain.”