What is the Mona Lisa of Prado?

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Whether you love it or are apathetic about it, we can all agree that the painting is instantly recognisable and holds an important place in culture (made more so by it’s significance in modern pop culture). But what if I told you that there was (in my opinion) a more beautiful version of the Mona Lisa?

Since it’s creation in the 16th century, there have been many copies made of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting. These replicas were being made by da Vinci’s own students, as well as his fellow artists. Of all of these copies, there is one that has the most historical value– the Mona Lisa of Prado.

(Source)

While the exact year in which it was made is uncertain, it is speculated that the Prado version was painted by one of da Vinci’s students at the same time as the original. The possibility of it having been painted so close to the da Vinci masterpiece is what has given this painting great value.

So who painted this beautiful replica? Before it’s restoration in 2010, the Prado’s Mona Lisa was attributed to a Flemish painter. Once it began to be restored however, art historians made several observations:

  • The painting’s frame was made of walnut– a material commonly used by da Vinci
  • A landscape background became visible upon restoration
  • Infrared reflectography and radiography revealed an underdrawing that was the same as the original Mona Lisa, albeit in a different style. Surprisingly, the corrections to the underdrawing are the same in both paintings.
Reflectographs of the Prado version (left) and the original (right). (Source)

With the help of such discoveries, experts have narrowed down the possible artists to da Vinci’s pupils Francesco Melzi, Salaì or one of his Spanish students such as Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina or Hernando de los Llanos.

At first glance, both the original and copy look nearly similar but there are significant differences. The Prado version gives us a clearer picture of Mona Lisa as it isn’t covered in layers of dirt and varnish. Here, we get a see her eyes (and eyebrows!) and smile clearly. Furthermore, the perspective in both paintings is different.

Although the Prado replica was likely made in the same studio as the original, it eventually found its way into the Spanish Royal Collection. It became a part of the permanent collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid where it can be found even today. Perhaps you can avoid the crowds around the original painting at the Louvre and visit this remarkable replica instead.

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