Giacobbe Giusti, Isleworth Mona Lisa
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is a painting of the same subject as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Though insufficiently examined, the painting is claimed by some to be partly an original work of Leonardo dating from the early 16th century.
Shortly before World War I, English art collector Hugh Blaker discovered the painting in the home of a Somerset nobleman in whose family it had been for nearly 100 years. This discovery led to the conjecture that Leonardo painted two portraits of Lisa del Giocondo: the famous one in The Louvre and the one discovered by Blaker, who bought the painting and took it to his studio in Isleworth, London, from which it takes its name.
According to Leonardo’s early biographer Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo had started to paint Mona Lisa in 1503, but “left it unfinished”. However, a fully finished painting of a “certain Florentine lady” surfaced again in 1517, shortly before Leonardo’s death and in his private possession. The latter painting almost certainly is the same that now hangs in the Louvre. Based on this contradiction, supporters of the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa[who?] claim it is the unfinished Mona Lisa, made at least partially by Leonardo, and the Louvre Mona Lisa a later version of it, made by Leonardo for his own use.
Also, according to Henry F. Pulitzer in his book Where is the Mona Lisa? (1960), Gian Paolo Lomazzo, an art historian, refers in his Trattato dell’arte della Pittura Scultura ed Architettura (1584), to “della Gioconda, e di Mona Lisa (the Gioconda, and the Mona Lisa)”. La Gioconda is sometimes used as an alternative title of the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre; the reference implies that these were, in fact, two separate paintings. Pulitzer reproduces the critical page from Lomazzo’s tract in his own book.
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is wider than the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, having columns on either side which also appear in some other versions. The Louvre painting merely has the projecting bases of columns on either side, suggesting that the picture was originally framed by columns but was trimmed. However, experts who examined the Mona Lisa in 2004–2005 stated that the original painting had not been trimmed.
The figure of the Isleworth Mona Lisa closely resembles that of the Mona Lisa, being identically composed and lit. However, the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa appears younger, leading to speculation that it is an earlier version by the artist. According to Pulitzer, multiple art experts agreed that the neck of the Isleworth Mona Lisa is inferior to the necks of other Leonardo subjects. Furthermore, the background in the Isleworth painting is considerably less detailed than the background in the Louvre painting. For these reasons, several people Pulitzer consulted believed that the hands and face of the portrait were done by Leonardo, but the rest may have been finished by another or others.
Raphael’s drawing, based on the Mona Lisa
The authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa is widely disputed in the art community. Sceptics argue that as Henry F. Pulitzer himself owned the painting in question, a conflict of interest is present. His Where is the Mona Lisa? was published by the Pulitzer Press, a publisher he owned. Pulitzer notes in the book’s introduction that he made a number of sacrifices in order to acquire the painting, including the selling of “a house with all its contents”.
Pulitzer argues in his book that Leonardo’s contemporary Raphael made a sketch of this painting, probably from memory, after seeing it in Leonardo’s studio in 1504 (the sketch is reproduced in Pulitzer’s book; the book says that this sketch is at the Louvre). The Raphael sketch includes the two Greek columns that are found not in the Louvre’s Mona Lisa, but are found in the painting bought by Blaker. Pulitzer presents a few pages of art expert testimonials in his book; some of these experts seemed to believe that Leonardo was the painter, others felt the artist was somebody who worked in Leonardo’s studio, and still others suggested that other artists may have done it. Supporters of the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa include art collector John Eyre, who argued that the bust, face, and hands are autographed.
Pulitzer also presents laboratory evidence (light to dark ratios across the canvas, X-rays, etc.) that his painting is a Leonardo. However, specific detail on the manner in which these studies were carried out, and by whom, is not provided. He writes: “I have no intention of cluttering up this book with too many technicalities and wish to make this chapter brief”. No independent reports on the painting are cited in his text; he uses the pronoun “we” to refer to the team that conducted the research. As his own Pulitzer Press then published these results, there is a lack of outside corroboration for his claims. A documentary aired by PBS gives the names of the persons doing the scientific studies.
Hidden in a Swiss bank vault for 40 years, this version of the Mona Lisa was unveiled to the public on 27 September 2012, but Professor Martin Kemp of Oxford University immediately raised doubts about the painting’s status.
In October 2013, Jean Pierre Isbouts published a book titled The Mona Lisa Myth examining the history and events behind the Louvre and Isleworth paintings. A companion film was released in March 2014. In July 2014, “The Mona Lisa Mystery” premiered on the PBS television station’s series, Secrets of the Dead. This documentary investigated, at length, the authenticity of the Isleworth painting.