Did Da Vinci Paint the Mona Lisa Twice?

Sitting in the Arts House at Singapore’s Old Chamber of Parliament is a work that could be da Vinci’s first attempt at painting the iconic Mona Lisa. The painting, predating the original by a decade and slightly larger in size, is of a younger Mona framed by a summery backdrop. The painting’s subject and star-sitter is thought to either be da Vinci’s own mother who according to art historian Angelo Paratico was a Chinese slave, or Lisa del Giocondo, a merchant’s wife doting that enigmatic smile.

The story behind the unfinished painting goes a little like this— in 1778 the artwork was purchased by an English Noble during a visit to Italy. Then in 1913, British art collector Hugh Baker unearthed the piece in Somerset and took it back to his studio in London for restoration. The painting then became known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, and since 2008 has been in possession of an international consortium traveling the Pacific.

There’s been a lot of skepticism in regards to the painting’s authenticity, which is nothing new in the case of the Mona Lisa as there have been countless instances of da Vinci forgery. The first to really vouch for the painting’s legitimacy are the members of Switzerland’s Mona Lisa Foundation. (Yep, there’s an entire institution dedicated to one painting.) These are the folks who manage the two paintings and are super psyched on the results produced by recent studies. According to the foundation’s vice-president David Feldman in conversation with Reuters, “…these latest discoveries and new scientific analysis just carried out leave little doubt that it is Leonardo’s work.”

Thanks to modern science, carbon-dating tests performed by Switzerland’s Zurich Institute have determined that the Isleworth Mona Lisa was painted between 1410 and 1455. The "original" Mona Lisa that’s been hanging in the Louvre since 1797, dates between 1503-1517, making it obviously the younger of the two. So cheers Mona, you’ve got a big sister!

Check out the foundation’s video to learn more about the newly found paintings origins and the evolution of da Vinci’s technique.

The painting is available for public viewing in Singapore.

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