A charcoal drawing known as the "nude Mona Lisa," long attributed to one of Leonardo da Vinci's students, may have been drawn by the master himself, according to experts at the Louvre in Paris.
It's hard to miss the resemblance between the woman in da Vinci's famous 16th-century painting and the semi-nude subject of the "Monna Vanna," a colorless sketch that has been held in the collection of the Condé Museum, north of Paris, since 1862. The familiar half-smile lingers above that pointed chin, while her hands are folded in exactly the same way.
Other similarities have caught the attention of researchers looking into the work's origins ahead of a planned 2019 exhibition at the Condé that will mark 500 years since the Italian Renaissance artist's death. The drawing was made in the same period as "Mona Lisa," during da Vinci's lifetime, and the paper on which it was sketched was made in Italy, Condé deputy curator Mathieu Deldicque told Reuters.
The "Monna Vanna" has been credited to one of da Vinci's students, Andrea Salai, since the 20th century. Some have argued Salai's version was only a copy of a lost original by the master. (Read about the chalk and ink portrait that may be a $100 million Leonardo.)
Now new technology and analysis by a team of experts have enabled a deeper dive into the history of the drawing, which may indeed be the work of a student but enhanced by da Vinci's himself.
"We’re just wondering if the hand of Leonardo da Vinci is present in the drawing,” Deldicque told artnet News. “It could be, but we have no clear proof of that yet.”
Researchers plan another month of analysis before returning the painting to the Condé. Regardless of their conclusions, it seems likely that mystery will endure behind that enigmatic smile.