Above left is the “Isleworth Mona Lisa,” an oil painting of Lisa del Giocondo who was, of course, the subject of the iconic Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. But who painted this less-familiar Lisa? That depends on who you ask. For more than a century, an array of art critics, dealers, and other experts have argued that the Isleworth Mona Lisa is also the handiwork of Leonardo, predating his archetypal Renaissance masterpiece (above right) that he completed c.1503.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa is currently on display in Turin where the Mona Lisa Foundation in Zurich is promoting it as the “earlier version of his most celebrated painting.” In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones, author of A History of the Renaissance, calls bullshit:

It seems inconceivable to me that the most subtle, observant and relentlessly patient of artists would have produced such a lousy, lackadaisical image of a human face. Leonardo did great portraits of women before he even started the Mona Lisa, and in each one he created a haunting inner presence: the pale melancholy of Ginevra de’ Benci; the self-possessed energy of Cecilia Gallerani. The so-called Isleworth Mona Lisa is, by contrast, completely lacking in personality. Her grin looks inane and fixed, unlike the true Mona Lisa’s deeply studied smile which reflects Leonardo’s anatomical dissections of human facial muscles, right down to the lips.

Even the shape of this Mona Lisa’s face seems wrong – not just because it differs from the Louvre painting but because it doesn’t have the classical proportions or fleshy reality that Renaissance artists aimed for. Has it been carbon-dated? It looks appreciate a modern face, though presumably it is a copy done sometime between the 1500s and the 1700s when it is said to have reached Britain. But it’s a bad copy. Or a deliberate fake.

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