The Mona Lisa Foundation

Summary of Critical Comparisons


This section highlights similarities and the differences between the earlier and Louvre versions of Mona Lisa
paintings, and some of the copies that emanated from them:

• Clear similarities between the Mona Lisas are: the pose; the veil; the profiles; the hands; the clothing; the loggia setting and the foreground landscape; and the right elbow resting on the unseen arm of the chair.

• Clear differences between them are: the supports – one is on canvas, the other on wood panel; the overall compositions, including that one composition has columns and the other does not; the obvious age difference between the subjects; the specific details and intended discrepancies of the knot patterns of the embroidery; the background landscape; the glazing technique specific to the Louvre version; the geometric construction of the designs; and the proportion of the subjects in relation to the overall sizes of the paintings; the presence in the earlier version and absence from the Louvre version of columns and appropriate shadowing at their bases; the difference in spacing between the eyes of the subjects.

• In 1550, and again in 1568, Vasari clearly identified that Leonardo left the painting “ … unfinished … ” The Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’, however, is completely finished, and was so when Leonardo showed it to the Cardinal of Aragon at Cloux in 1517. The small pen and ink drawing of a young woman on a balcony with columns, by Raphael, dating from c.1504 and executed while he was in Florence and observing Leonardo at work, is an important piece of evidence in itself. Most scholars concur that this drawing, and some of his subsequent paintings, were derived from a portrait of Mona Lisa being undertaken by Leonardo. It would seem that it was the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’, with its unique set of flanking columns that influenced Raphael. Because of the unique compositional elements that appear nowhere else, this Mona Lisa portrait must have been in progress when Raphael saw it in 1504. What other painting by Leonardo having these characteristics could have been seen by Raphael at that time?

• The existence of the columns and the application of appropriate shadowing strongly suggest the signature work by Leonardo. One observes the clear Leonardesque creation and fine execution of the lower section of the columns in the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ contrasted with the rather poor renderings of the bases of columns partly visible in the Louvre version. The latter would likely not have been painted by Leonardo. The Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ has not been cut down and never did have columns.

• Both versions of the Mona Lisa have generated their copies. The Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ has been the basis for countless copies over hundreds of years. By contrast, any copy that employs flanking columns of classical design would likely have found its origin in the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’: for example, the Oslo ‘Mona Lisa’ is a direct copy of the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’. The existence of this painting is another major element pointing to the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ having been an original painted by Leonardo. After all, why would an artist copy a copy?

• The presence of unique embroideries only in the Louvre and earlier Mona Lisas suggest a Leonardo attribution.

In conjunction, these points show that:

• The artist intended from the outset that the works would be different from each other.

• Both paintings are original works, most likely by the same artist, and neither is a copy of the other.

• If Leonardo da Vinci painted one of them then he also must have painted the other.

Confirming the conclusion reached in the ‘Historical Evidence’ section, the innovative ‘Regression Project’ undertaken by one of the world’s leading forensic artists, concludes that both Mona Lisa portraits are of the same woman and completed approximately 11 years apart.