Much of the world’s great art is hidden away in private collections and museum archives, but every now and then, something is brought out into the light that commands new attention. A charcoal drawing that was previously attributed to the studio of Leonardo da Vinci has been brought out of an archive where it has been stashed for the past 150 years. Experts now believe it is a draft version of the Mona Lisa.
The drawing features a nude woman in the familiar seated pose with her arms crossed. She has similar features as well as the enigmatic expression we associate with the famous painting.
This drawing is known as the Monna Vanna, and it has been held since 1862 in the collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum at the Palace of Chantilly, north of the French capital. Tests conducted by the Louvre Museum in Paris have led curators to believe the sketch is “at least in part” by da Vinci, who employed other artists in his studio to assist with his work.
“The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable,” said curator Mathieu Deldicque. “It is not a pale copy. We are looking at something which was worked on in parallel with the Mona Lisa at the end of Leonardo’s life. It is almost certainly a preparatory work for an oil painting.”
The Mona Lisa is the most valuable painting in the world, with an estimated worth of $782 million. It was created over a period of years in the early1500s, and is believed to be a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo commissioned by her husband, the merchant and politician Francesco del Giocondo.
Another school of thought contends that the painting was actually commissioned by Giuliano de’ Medici, da Vinci’s patron, which then raises questions about the featured woman, identified only as “a certain Florentine woman, done from life.” It has been speculated that she was Pacifica Brandani, de’ Medici’s mistress, with whom he had an illegitimate son. Brandani died in childbirth and one theory is that the portrait was painted so the boy could see his mother.