Friday, January 29, 2010

Nude, Mona Lisa-like painting surfaces

Documents suggest work at least based on similar work by da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, in a Renaissance version of Mad Magazine, may have painted his famous Mona Lisa in a number of ways, including nude. Now, a painting has surfaced that looks much like the original, sparking debate over just how far the master took his iconic painting.
The newly revealed painting, hidden for almost a century within the wood wall of a private library, shows a portrait of a half-naked woman with clear links to the famous (and clothed) Mona Lisa.
The work, which documents suggest was at least based on never-seen similar work by da Vinci, is now on exhibit at the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where da Vinci was born in 1452.
The lady in the portrait does not exactly resemble the original Mona Lisa, but there is little doubt it has parallels with the painting hanging at the Louvre museum in Paris.
"The frontal look, the position of the hands, the spatial conception of the landscape, with columns at the sides, show a clear link with the Mona Lisa's iconographic theme," Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the museum, told Discovery News.
The naked portrait once belonged to Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763-1839) and was ensconced within the wood walls of Fesch's private library for nearly a century, before trading more hands within the Napoleon family.
An art lover, the Cardinal owned an impressive collection of artworks, including da Vinci's "St. Jerome" (now in the Vatican gallery), which he discovered in pieces in the Roman shops of a second-hand dealer.
A note dating to 1845 records that the Cardinal bought "the portrait of the Mona Lisa, mistress of Francis I, by Leonardo da Vinci," from the Rospigliosis, a rich aristocratic Roman family.
After changing hands at the death of the Cardinal, the portrait was possibly bought by Napoleon III, and finally landed in the private collection of Count Giuseppe Primoli, a descendant of Luciano Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother.
The documentation from the painting's original purchase is not enough to verify the work is by da Vinci, himself. The nude portrait will now undergo scientific and artistic investigations in an attempt to date the work and determine its author. Even if it is not by da Vinci (and it likely isn't, experts say), it may be based on a lost original by the artist himself.
"I think it is very likely that Leonardo da Vinci conceived a naked Mona Lisa," leading da Vinci scholar Carlo Pedretti, director of the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, told Discovery News.
Indeed, several other claims of unclothed Mona Lisa's have been made over the years, pointing to the theory that da Vinci might have had fun with the famous image he had created around 1503-1506.
"There are at least six nude versions which are very close to da Vinci's hand. All are attributed to the da Vinci school. The most likely scenario is that his followers got inspired by a now-lost original," Vezzosi said.
According to Vezzosi, the original naked Mona might have been part of a series of erotic portraits by da Vinci and his pupils, which were never really shown because they were considered inappropriate.
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My thoughts :

Interesting article. And interesting painting. While I can appreciate the work, I don't particularly like the painting. It is clearly in the mood of the Mona Lisa - style, color, background, the folded hands, the smile. But I don't believe it could have been painted by Da Vinci.
My first thought when I saw it was that she has very unflattering scraggly looking hair (maybe I need to see a larger version). Number two, it was highly unusual during the time of Da Vinci for a nude to be looking at the viewer. I think it was unusual to paint a full frontal facial portrait too. That right there pretty much automatically says that this was a private erotic painting. Like it says at the end of the article, this type of painting wasn't meant for public viewing because it was considered inappropriate and erotic. In formal portraits the head is almost always slightly turned to the side or tilted. She is uncomfortably situated on the canvas, directly in the center, her body turned to the side but her head facing forward. It is uncomfortable to look at. The breasts look too firm and unnatural and the arms look too masculine and out of proportion with the stomach. A woman with large arms would have a larger stomach.
Da Vinci was too meticulous to have painted it that way. I can appreciate the skill it took to paint it. But to me it is clear that it wasn't painted by Da Vinci.

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