Da Vinci Had a Hand in the “Naked Mona Lisa”

A preliminary study suggests the master painter worked on the drawing called the “Mona Vanna”

Monna Vanna
Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Researchers at the Louvre recently suggested that a charcoal drawing of a naked woman that looks very much like the Mona Lisa may actually be a portrait of the same model at least partially drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, reports Agence France-Presse.

The drawing, called the Monna Vanna, has been in the possession of France's Conde Museum since 1862. According to the Le Parisien newspaper, the museum wants to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance painter’s death by putting together an exhibition of works inspired by the Monna Vanna. So they decided to see if they could confirm that the drawing came from da Vinci’s workshop and even from the master’s hand himself.

To that end, Le Parisien reports, they enlisted the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums of France housed at the Louvre. For several weeks, experts studied the drawing, examining it with a microscope and analyzing it with various wavelengths of light.

Though the analysis is still preliminary, the researchers believe the drawing dates from the time of da Vinci, and that, at least in part, he had a hand in its creation. “The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable. It is not a pale copy,” curator Mathieu Deldicque tells AFP.  “We are looking at something which 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.”

In fact, the paper is almost the same size as the Mona Lisa, and it has a series of holes that suggest it was pinned to a canvas for tracing.

However, getting definitive proof will take more study, if it is even provable. “The hatching on the top of the drawing near the head was done by a right-handed person. Leonardo drew with his left hand. It is job that is going to take some time,” Bruno Mottin, head of the painting department at the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums, tells Le Parisien. “It is a very difficult drawing to work on because it is particularly fragile.”

AFP reports that in the 1860s, when the drawing was last sold, it was attributed to da Vinci, but over time experts attributed it to a member of his studio.

This is not the only “Naked Mona Lisa” image out there. Nick Squires at The Telegraph reports a painting of a topless Mona was once owned by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon’s ambassador to the Vatican. He hid that painting in his wall and it was not found for a century. It’s unlikely that da Vinici painted that portrait, but experts believe he may have painted a now-lost nude Mona Lisa, which later artists copied. AFP reports that there about 20 known nude copies of the Mona Lisa from various artists in collections around the world.

“We know that da Vinci created a nude version. We don’t where the work of the master is,” Deldicque tells the Associated Press. “There are two mysteries [concerning this drawing]. The author, and the meaning of this nude Mona Lisa.”

In fact, there are many copies of the Mona Lisa out there, nude and clothed, including Marcel Duchamp’s mustachioed version and copies made by aspiring artists. In  2012, conservators determined that one of the best copies was probably produced by a student (and maybe a lover) who painted it while standing next to da Vinci as the master created the iconic portrait.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.