Prado Museum displays unique copy of the 'Mona Lisa'

Earliest 'Mona Lisa' copy hangs at Prado
Earliest 'Mona Lisa' copy hangs at Prado


    Earliest 'Mona Lisa' copy hangs at Prado


Earliest 'Mona Lisa' copy hangs at Prado 01:02

Story highlights

  • The painting is believed to be the earliest known copy of the "Mona Lisa"
  • Evidence shows it was painted at the same time and in the same studio as the original
  • The background was painted over with black during the 18th century
  • The restored copy has background details linking it more closely to the original

The Prado Museum put on display for public viewing Tuesday a restored version of what is thought to be the earliest known copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" masterpiece, which hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Many copies of "Mona Lisa" were painted years after the fact, but this copy is different, experts say, because evidence shows it was painted at the same time and in the same studio as the original masterpiece, probably by one of Leonardo's assistants or pupils.

The copy shows the same woman and the same landscape, the Prado Museum said in a statement.

But the restored copy may depict the woman in a more youthful and vibrant fashion, some art experts said, because the original masterpiece has been dulled by layers of cracked varnish and there are no known plans to restore it as well.

Mona Lisa: The theft that created a legend

"This copy is now one of the most important sources of information for working procedures in Leonardo's studios," the Prado said in a statement.

"The first thing to notice is that the copy is in remarkably good condition and we think that it's a rather faithful rendition of the original," Gabriele Finaldi, the Prado's deputy director told CNN. "I think it has a lot to offer regarding the understanding of the original in the Louvre, particularly in the landscape and in the head dress, and details of the face and hands."

The copy will be on display at the Prado through March 12, when it will be sent to the Louvre to be shown in an exhibition on Leonardo, starting March 29.

Both the original and the copy were painted 500 years ago, but what art experts consider to be the exciting details about the copy occurred only recently.

The copy has been in Spanish art collections for centuries, first in the royal collection, and then in the Prado's collection starting in 1819, when the museum opened, the Prado statement said.

At a packed news conference at the museum, Prado officials said the "Mona Lisa" copy underwent a big change in the 18th century, when someone ordered the colorful background landscape to be painted over in black. Art historians know that some other paintings underwent similar transformations, with backgrounds being obscured.

'Mona Lisa' model to be revealed by crypt?

In the case of the "Mona Lisa" copy, the painted-over version left just the young woman in view, with none of the tell-tale background that could link it more closely to the masterpiece. This portrait was actually on display for years at the Prado, without anyone realizing what was hidden, museum officials said.

Two years ago, the Louvre asked the Prado to study this portrait with the aim of getting it on loan for the Leonardo exhibit to start late next month, Prado officials said.

The Prado restoration workshop began a series of painstaking tests on the copy, including chemical analysis and infrared imaging, which suggested the black paint was covering up some earlier part of the painting.

The painting was cleaned of oxidized varnish and then very small portions of the black were removed at the edges, and those sections were compared to the original masterpiece in the Louvre. As positive matches occurred -- sections of landscape in the original matching newly uncovered sections of landscape in the copy -- more of the black was removed, until it was finally revealed to be a contemporary copy.

Prado officials said much more study will now be done on the copy, including trying to figure out exactly who painted it. There are few likely candidates -- people who were working in Da Vinci's workshop at the time -- but art experts are not yet sure which one might be the artist.

The copy will go to the Louvre as part of the "Leonardo's Final Masterpiece" exhibition, which focuses on his work, "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne."

Unveiling of alternate 'Mona Lisa' raises questions

      Inside the Louvre

    •  A visitor walks past artworks at the Louvre-Lens museum in Lens during the latest exhibition on May 17, 2013. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, MANDATORY CREDIT OF THE ARTIST, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION - AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

      Can art save this mining town?

      Henri Wosniak had only ever seen France's beloved painting -- "Liberty Leading the People" -- on postage stamps. Then the real thing turned up on his doorstep.
    • Liberty leading the people

      Your favorite Louvre artworks

      As part of CNN's special series "Inside the Louvre," we asked you to share your favorite artwork via the hashtag #LouvreFavorite.
    • PARIS, FRANCE: (FILES) - View dated 16 November 2004 of the Appolo gallery at the Louvre museum in Paris. Created to glorify king Louis XIV, some 350 years ago, the gallery reopens to the public 27 November 2004 following three years of renovation. AFP PHOTO JOEL ROBINE (Photo credit should read JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)

      Louvre director goes undercover

      It's the height of summer in Paris, and the director of the most famous art museum in the world is queuing like any other tourist.
    • spc inside louvre mona lisa restoration_00003201.jpg

      Restoring the Mona Lisa

      CNN's Nick Glass explores whether or not Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting should be cleaned.
    • Gangs of pickpockets have been targeting staff and visitors at the Louvre, museum staff say.

      Most popular museum on the planet

      The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world. CNN takes a closer look at one of the most important cultural institutions of our time.
    • spc inside louvre behind the scenes glass pkg_00013029.jpg

      Behind the scenes of the Louvre

      CNN host Nick Glass takes a backstage tour of the Louvre looking at the maintenance and upkeep necessary at the world famous museum.