Meet the apprentice...new Mona Lisa by da Vinci's pupil
THE Mona Lisa at the Prado in Madrid was thought to be just another fine copy, with added eyebrows and an odd black background.
But curators at Spain's national art museum yesterday announced a startling discovery: the painting was actually by an artist in Leonardo da Vinci's workshop at the same time as the original.
It is the first known copy of the most famous painting in history, and a discovery that curators believe sheds new light on the creation of the masterpiece.
Deputy conservator Gabriele Finaldi said: "It's as if we were standing in the workshop itself, and at the next easel. You can see that the artist was working step by step with Leonardo. When Leonardo made a change, he made a change."
The copy sits in a dimly-lit room awaiting the finishing touches of a two-year restoration, during which its true origin was revealed.
Curators decided it needed a facelift because it was going on loan to the Louvre in March. Following X-ray and infrared studies, they were surprised to find a landscape hidden beneath the dark paint behind the subject.
Conservators believe the artist could be Francesco Melzi, one of Leonardo's favourite pupils.
"When you look at the copy, you can imagine that this is what the Mona Lisa looked like in the 16th century," Mr Finaldi continued.
"It's not just the details and the colour use. It has also been protected from light and dirt for centuries. So what you see if a very reliable appearance."
The Mona Lisa is believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a Florentine merchant's wife, and the copy makes her look younger and more seductive.
Miguel Falomir, chief conservator for renaissance painting, said: "When the X-ray revealed the landscape, we saw it was in extraordinary condition. It was the most surprising thing to emerge in the workshop in the 14 years I've been at the Prado."
The copy has belonged to the museum at least since the 1666, first as part of the royal collection and then as a state treasure. It was first thought to have been produced by a Flemish hand after da Vinci's death. Then it was believed to be a later Italian copy.
The Art Newspaper said: "This sensational picture will transform our understanding of the world's most famous picture."
"For 400 years, it has had the same owner, the same atmospheric conditions," said Mr Falomir. "It has never left the Prado. It's probably in better shape than the original."