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Experts Believe Leonardo Sketched the Mona Lisa Nude

Analysis of a drawing long attributed to Leonardo’s studio suggests the artist worked on at least part of it, and that it may have been a preparatory sketch for the Mona Lisa.

School of Leonardo da Vinci, "La Joconde nue" (ca 1514–16), 28.5 x 21 in (© RMN-Grand Palais, domaine de Chantilly; photo by Gérard Blot)
School of Leonardo da Vinci, “La Joconde nue” (ca 1514–16), 28.5 x 21 in (© RMN-Grand Palais, domaine de Chantilly; photo by Gérard Blot)

New analysis suggests that a portrait drawing long attributed to the studio of Leonardo da Vinci may not only have been partly executed by the Renaissance master himself, but may in fact be a study for the Mona Lisa, depicting the same sitter nude.

The drawing, long known as “La Joconde nue” (or “Nude La Gioconda”), is in the collection of the Musée Condé at the Domaine de Chantilly, some 30 miles north of Paris. (A painting based on it, attributed to the school of Leonardo, is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum.) It previously belonged to Henri of Orléans, the Duke of Aumale, who stipulated when he gave his collection to the French state that it must remain on his estate, which it has since 1862. However, Le Figaro reported that for the past month it has been in the sub-basement of the Louvre for analysis by the Center of Research and Restoration of the Museums of France in preparation for its inclusion in a major Leonardo exhibition in 2019 (the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death).

Analysts have concluded that at least part of the drawing may have been executed by Leonardo himself. Indeed, when the Duke of Aumale purchased the piece in the 19th century, it was attributed to Leonardo. That attribution didn’t stand for long; it was subsequently believed to have been executed by one of Leonardo’s assistants, while some thought it might be an erotic variation of his Mona Lisa executed in the 17th or 18th century, according to Le Figaro.

“The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable,” Mathieu Deldicque, a curator at the Musée Condé, told the AFP. “It is not a pale copy. We are looking at something that was worked on in parallel with the Mona Lisa at the end of Leonardo’s life. … It is almost certainly a preparatory work for an oil painting.” The “Nude La Gioconda” has been dated to between 1514 and 1516, while the Mona Lisa has been dated to sometime between 1503 and 1519, the year of Leonardo’s death.

Evidence cited by Deldicque to support an at least partial attribution of the drawing to Leonardo and its use as a preparatory sketch for the Mona Lisa include the nearly identical positions of the sitter’s hands in each piece, and the small holes surrounding the figure in the drawing, suggesting that it may have been used to transfer the outline of the image to another surface and perhaps served as the basis for a painting.

Improbably, this is not the only bit of news this week involving Leonardo’s beguiling portrait and a nude woman.

On Sunday, the performance artist Deborah de Robertis — famous for replicating Gustave Courbet’s “The Origin of the World” in front of the painting itself — was arrested at the Louvre for pulling a similar stunt in front of the Mona Lisa.

According to reports, the artist, naked from the waist down, climbed onto the large shelf in front of Leonardo’s painting, spread her legs and yelled: “Mona Lisa, my pussy, my copyright!” It was not her first time staging an unsanctioned performance in front of the Mona Lisa. She subsequently said that the provocative performance was an homage to the Austrian conceptual artist Valie Export. De Robertis is now facing charges of exhibitionism.

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