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Infrared reflectograms shed light on Prado’s copy of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Infrared reflectogram of The Mona Lisa, (Museo Nacional del Prado), detail Made by the Museo Nacional de Prado

Infrared reflectogram of The Mona Lisa. Detail made by the Museo Nacional del Prado

A new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Museo Nacional del Prado showcases the results of a recent research project into the copies made of Leonardo da Vinci’s work by pupils in his studio in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Leonardo and the copy of the Mona Lisa. New approaches to the artist’s studio practices is the first monographic exhibition in Spain to study the copies and versions of Leonardo’s work made in his studio during his lifetime.

The research was conducted in parallel with international museums and organisations such as the Musée du Louvre, the Molecular Archaeology Laboratory at the Sorbonne and the National Gallery.

Together with the paintings and infrared reflectograms, the exhibition helps to illustrate Leonardo’s ideas, how his pupils assimilated them and the practices employed by the latter in order to produce paintings.

“The exhibition is based on the new orientation and significance that Leonardo studies have acquired following the exhibitions devoted to the artist at the Louvre in 2012 and 2019,” said Ana González, Senior Technician of Museums in the Prado’s Conservation Department.

New analytical equipment

Left: The Mona Lisa (before restoration) Studio of Leonardo da Vinci, authorised and supervised by him, oil on panel. Right: The same painting after restoration. © Museo Nacional del Prado

“Structured around the Prado copy of the Mona Lisa and the information derived from the technical images made possible by new analytical equipment, the Prado is now focusing on the unique and unconventional figure of Leonardo as a teacher.

“The works on display, which are based on paintings and drawings by Leonardo, also facilitate an understanding of how his theoretical knowledge was assimilated by his pupils while helping to explain many of the ideas and observations expressed in his writings.”

Results of technical studies

The exhibition allows visitors to see and understand the results of recent technical studies, which have confirmed that the copies of Leonardo’s most admired works – those of the Mona Lisa, Saint Anne and the Salvator Mundi – were made in his presence and under his supervision. The studies show they are all very carefully executed using expensive materials and retain the personality of the, as yet, unidentified artist who painted them.

“[The studies] also tells us about their training with Leonardo, which focused on the observation and understanding of the effects of light and colour that he made such efforts to reproduce.”

Infrared reflectograms of Mona Lisas

A comparative analysis of the infrared reflectogram of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and its Prado copy reveals identical details concealed beneath their surfaces. The museum says this confirms that the two artists worked in parallel and that the copyist reproduced much of the creative process of the original without trying to impersonate it.

Comparing the two Mona Lisa paintings using this technology shows many of the invisible modifications in the Paris original are repeated in the Madrid panel and the latter also shows corrections and free lines of drawing unrelated to the original, which reflect the painter’s doubts and suggest a more complex process than that of a mere copy.

Leonardo and the copy of the Mona Lisa. New approaches to the artist’s studio practices runs at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid until 23 January 2022.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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