The news unleashed, almost a decade ago, a real electric shock. In February of 2012, the Prado Museum unveiled an unexpected to a monolithic figure, practically immovable: that of the genius Leonardo. After restoring and analyzing the copy of the Mona Lisa that rested in his warehouses (and that, once, he had also exhibited in the room) he came to the sensational conclusion that what Until then they considered one more version, a piece of little importance, it was actually a unique painting. An invaluable document. It is, in fact, the oldest surviving copy, a version of La Gioconda executed by a disciple of the Vinciano workshop not a posteriori, but, at least for a time, simultaneously with the master. By his side. With the same procedures and corrections.
Ten years after that revelation, scientific and historiographic advances have made it possible to expand what was already known and strengthen what was taken for granted with regarding that painting, cataloged with the number 504 , which landed in the Prado with the Royal Collections – it has been inventoried since 1666 – and which was already revealed with the restoration of 2012 a landscape without the characteristic sfumato leonardesco under the layer of black paint that hid it. Among the recent finds stands out the attribution to the same author, whose name remains unspecified, of two other copies of paintings by Da Vinci: the “Ganay version” of the Salvator Mundi (called thus for the one who was its owner, the Marquis de Ganay) and the Santa Ana of the Hammer Museum. This and other information are now made available to the public in the “exhibition dossier” Leonardo and the copy of Mona Lisa. New approaches to the practice of the Vinciano workshop , open until 23 of January of 2022.
The attribution to a member of Leonardo’s workshop, carried out a decade ago now, arose almost from chance. The Louvre was going to hold a large exhibition on Da Vinci and borrowed from the Prado its copy of the Mona Lisa . A curator of the Parisian museum asked researcher Ana González Mozo, senior museum technician in the technical documentation office, if the piece had been studied. That’s where it all started. What followed is rewriting the history (of art). During this time, González Mozo, who would curate the exhibition, has continued studying the table with a question on the horizon: “What have we learned from —and with— this work?”
The expert responds. To begin with, “very specific practices have been contextualized: making copies in Leonardo’s workshop”. Busy in a thousand companies and a perfectionist to the bone, the teacher did not always find time to paint. So his disciples did it for him. In front of the stigmatized vision that we have today of the copy, in the hinge between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in which we find ourselves it was, however, a noble task. Depending on the occasion, as González Mozo points out, the pupils were based on drawings and cartoons or, as in the case of the Mona Lisa of the Prado, they were giving the brushstrokes from behind of the teacher. “That is why we know that He was a very close painter, who must have spent many years with him ”, says the researcher.
The “great advances in image analysis devices”, together with the exhibitions on Leonardo hosted at the Louvre in 2012 and 2019 (the latter framed in the Leonardo Year, which commemorated the 500 years of his death) have contributed to accelerate the investigation, facilitating conclusions such as that the Madrid copy of the Mona Lisa arose from the Same hand as the Ganay version of the Salvator Mundi and the Santa Ana housed in the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
This triple authorship reinforces the conviction that he was a close collaborator of Leonardo, given that the copies commissioned by the master correspond, as González Mozo points out, to some of “his most precious works”. Whether his name was that of one of the two disciples with whom there has been the most speculation – Francesco Melzi and Andrea Salai, who would become Leonardo’s lover – is something that is unknown at the moment. “We continue investigating, but that is not the goal. What interests us is to know the processes ”, answers González Mozo. “The sure thing is that he was someone very close, but Leonardo had many students and we know the names of very few. We will have to wait to find out his identity. ”
If there is something for sure at the Prado, it is that Da Vinci did not participate in the realization of this painting. “We didn’t see it then and we don’t see it now,” acknowledges the museum director, Miguel Falomir, who in 2012, when the first finds around the copy of the Mona Lisa were presented, he held the position of head of Italian Renaissance painting. “There were media from all over the world at the press conference, the busiest I remember,” he recalls. Everyone wants news of Leonardo, and there would be nothing “more tempting” than to reveal that the Florentine intervened in this work. “But that’s not the case,” ditch Falomir.
Da Vinci did not stroke this table walnut with its brushes, but some of its hallmarks do emerge from the execution of the work. For example, the distinctive red line with which he outlined the eyes of the characters in his drawings (although not in his paintings). “We have also detected gestures of the author in small details of the Mona Lisa that he made an effort to hide because Leonardo said that the painting must be a reflection of nature, not of the hand of the painter ”, González Mozo abounds. Also, these 10 years have been given to deepen the study of colored bases, used to modify the color of the layers, a procedure whose origin lies in the impossibility of mixing certain colors with binders such as eggs.
Beyond the technical specificities, the investigations around the Mona Lisa of the Prado serve to shed light on the practices not only of the Vinciano workshop, but of the generality of the Italian workshops in the transition from the 15th to the 16th century. The importance of the idea as a motor of artistic practice, typically Renaissance, and the tension between the concepts of original and copy, whose function varied according to the commission, are superimposed on Leonardo’s renewed vision as a teacher. “The data do not make sense if we do not put them in relation to the work”, summarizes González Mozo. “We must emphasize the importance of a teacher who teaches to look. And Leonardo was. ”