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Earlier Version of Mona Lisa Unveiled?

By: CBS
By: CBS

The Swiss-based Mona Lisa Foundation unveils a painting which they say proves Leonardo Da Vinci painted an earlier version of the iconic Mona Lisa.

A younger vision of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" was presented in Geneva on Thursday (September 27) with the suggestion that it is the original version of what has been called the world's most famous painting.

The Swiss-based Mona Lisa Foundation organising the event said on Wednesday (September 26) that detailed research over three decades strongly indicates that it is an earlier portrayal by the Italian genius of "the lady with the mystic smile."

"What is the purpose of the Mona Lisa Foundation? It is our quest to collect and present all evidence showing that the great artist Leonardo Da Vinci did in fact paint two versions of the Mona Lisa portrait. Thus it is the ultimate goal of our endeavours to give that stunning earlier version the place in art history which it deserves after such a long period in obscurity," the Foundations president Markus Frey said at the event.

In Italy and France, the one currently recognised Leonardo "Mona Lisa" is known as "La Giaconda" or "La Joconde" after Lisa Gherardini, wife of early 16th century Italian nobleman Francesco del Giacondo who commissioned a portrait of her. But Leonardo never delivered it to him.

The portrait to be presented to experts and media in Geneva shows a woman appearing to be in her early 20s -- rather than the early 30s of the Louvre painting -- in the same pose and with much the same enigmatic stare as the Louvre masterpiece.

Cautiously backing the "two versions" thesis -- which if proven would create a major sensation in the art world -- are leading Italian Leonardo specialist Alessandro Vezzosi, another foundation member, and U.S.-based expert Carlo Pedretti.

Vezzosi, director of the Leonardo museum in the artist's home town of Vinci in central Italy, called on the critics to keep an open mind, and said the two version theory was "a fascinating possibility".

"Clearly, attributing a painting is an extremely complex process, which requires converging investigations, results and interpretations, inspections and judgements, all shared by experts. My method is that of ongoing works, based on research and hypothesis, on question marks especially as regards the attribution - bearing in mind history and scientific findings and the evolution of criticism. very often, when a discovery is made or an intuition expressed, it seems that a reasonable certainty is at hand, while this only opens new pathways to research," Vezzosi said at the event.

He said the earlier version of the Mona Lisa was left incomplete and argued details, such as the background, could have been painted by others than Leonardo Da Vinci.

"First of all the face with it's quality and intensity, compare that to the cluster of trees on this side. This was probably painted by someone else and with a different technique and the problem of perspective proportions and the rest of the landscape", Vezzosi said.

But other experts on the artist, sculptor, architect and designer who bestrode the European cultural world from the late 15th century until his death in a small French chateau on the Loire at the age of 67 in 1519, are strongly sceptical.

In comments printed last weekend in a London newspaper, Oxford University professor Martin Kemp argued that the Geneva portrait is probably a copy of the Paris version by an unknown painter who simply chose to make the subject younger.

The "younger version" is not new to the art world, though -- apart from a brief excursion to Japan -- it has been in a Swiss vault for many years.

It was discovered in 1913 by collector Hugh Blaker -- who had already made several art discoveries -- in a manor house in the west of England where it had hung for a century unnoticed. How it got there is unknown.

Blaker took it to his home in a London suburb, where it was dubbed "the Isleworth Mona Lisa." On his death in 1936, it was bought by American collector Henry Pulitzer, who deposited it in a Swiss bank while writing a book about it, published in 1972.

When Pulitzer died in 1979, it passed to his Swiss business partner, and on her death in 2010, it was bought by an international consortium, its current owners.

The Louvre "Mona Lisa", which draws huge crowds daily, was in Leonardo's possession when he died in France. It then found its way into the collection of King Francois I, but exactly how it got there has never been established.


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