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Something special about ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’

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LEONARDO da Vinci’s most famous creation “Mona Lisa” won the hearts of people with her smile, drawing art lovers from around the world to the Louvre in Paris everyday.

“A much younger Mona Lisa,” also created by da Vinci, will be in Shanghai when the city holds an exhibition titled “A Voyage of Discovery of the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’” in February next year at Jing’an Kerry Center.

Curated by the Mona Lisa Foundation of Zurich, Switzerland, the exhibition will give art lovers the chance of seeing this priceless Renaissance painting and getting a close look at the most beautiful smile in the world.

The “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre is regarded as the world’s most valuable artwork for decades. Art historians have described the charming smile as the most mysterious one in the world. In 2012, when the “Earlier Mona Lisa” was made public for the first time, it immediately attracted the attention of the world.

Like the “Mona Lisa,” the “Earlier Mona Lisa” is also the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, but painted a decade before and therefore looks much younger.After almost 35 years, during which historians made comparative study and carried out scientific research, the Mona Lisa Foundation, together with experts, scientists and art historians, presented evidence in 2012 that confirmed that the “Earlier Mona Lisa” was indeed done by da Vinci.

“Mona Lisa,” which was commissioned by Guiliano de’ Medici, was done between 1513 and 1516. The “Earlier Mona Lisa” was painted from 1503 to 1506 and commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo. It had a young Lisa, and was flanked by columns, but was left unfinished.

In all probability, da Vinci used the same model to create the Louvre masterpiece, and the earlier unfinished work ended up with da Vinci’s assistant after his death.

The Shanghai exhibition will explain the research involved — its artistic merits and interactive analysis — helping visitors to enjoy the masterpiece.

Joel Feldman, the general secretary of Mona Lisa Foundation, was recently in city and shared some thoughts on the painting with Shanghai Daily.

According to Feldman, the woman behind that famous smile, Lisa del Giocondo (1479-1542), was the wife of an influential Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo.

She could not possibly have known that her portrait would become the most recognizable face in history.

In 1913, Hugh Blaker, an art connoisseur and curator of the Holburne Museum in Bath, England, rediscovered the “Earlier Mona Lisa” at the manor house of an aristocratic Family.

Blaker acquired the painting and brought it to his studio in London. A year later, the painting was sent to the US for safekeeping during World War I. It was housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Art until 1918.

In 1975, Henry Pulitzer, the publisher, bought the painting and brought it to Switzerland, where it was locked away in a bank vault.

In 2008, the painting was passed to an international consortium. At the same year, the Mona Lisa Foundation was established, mandated to conduct all necessary research to determine if da Vinci painted the “Earlier Mona Lisa.”

Spectral analyses are scientific examinations that use X-Ray, ultraviolet light, and various forms of infrared technology and multispectral digitization to investigate an artwork in a non-invasive way.

In fact, in published opinions on the matter, 28 out of the 29 experts believe this is either possibly or certainly the painting created by Leonardo da Vinci.

Feldman said the Mona Lisa Foundation has collected the views of experts and critics dating from the painting’s rediscovery in 1913.

The Shanghai exhibition will also feature a section that highlights some of the issues raised by the experts.

Shanghai Daily has an intensive talk with Joel Feldman, the general secretary of Mona Lisa Foundation.

 

Q: Do you remember the feeling when you first saw the “Mona Lisa” painting at Louvre and this “Earlier Mona Lisa” painting? In your eyes, what is the permanent beauty of the “Mona Lisa” paintings?

A: I first saw the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre as a young boy. Quite honestly I was slightly disappointed as the painting seemed quite small and dark. This is, of course, because it is under such thick protective glass.

When I first saw the “Earlier Mona Lisa” I was absolutely stunned and awed.

Believe me, there is really something special that occurs when you are in the presence of this painting.

As to why the “Mona Lisa” paintings are considered so beautiful: it is most likely because of that special smile that invites you to a dialogue…

 

Q: What’s the challenging part for working at the Mona Lisa Foundation?

A: I am the general secretary of the Mona Lisa Foundation. I must say it really is a pleasure to be working in the service of such a world icon.

The story of this “Earlier Mona Lisa” painting is quite interesting. There are actually quite a few documentaries that mention the painting. There is also an award-winning documentary entitled “Mona Lisa — Leonardo da Vinci’s Earlier Version.”

 

Q: Why did you choose Shanghai for this exhibition?

A: First and foremost, Shanghai is emerging as a major world art center, as can be witnessed through the great successes of recent exhibitions.

In addition, the mission of the foundation is to show the painting to the world and Shanghai, as a major center, was an obvious choice. It was decided to begin the world tour in Asia.

 

Q: It is said that the insurance fee of the “Mona Lisa” at Louvre was US$100 million to hold the exhibition in New York in 1974. How much insurance will be paid for this painting to come to Shanghai?

A: As the general secretary of the Mona Lisa Foundation, a Swiss non-profit research institution, I am not involved with commercial aspects of the operation. What I can say however is that this is probably the most valuable painting in private hands today.

 

Q: Could you give some details about the security being arranged for this painting in Shanghai?

A: The painting will be showcased in a high-tech bulletproof, alarmed, humidity controlled, GPS localized case with integrated lighting system. Despite this, visitors will be able to come quite close to the painting.

 

Q: Will the number of visitors be restricted? As we all know, the huge crowd in front of the “Mona Lisa” painting at Louvre hinders view, making it difficult to appreciate the masterpiece.

A: The idea will be for visitors to have an enjoyable experience. We will endeavor to make it as pleasant as possible.

 

Q: It is quite rare that an exhibition displays only one painting. But according to the organizer, the exhibition is divided into seven halls. What are the other things on view?

A: This exhibition is an interactive multi-media tablet-led exhibition, probably the first of its kind.

Each visitor will have the chance to engage in an immersive experience and learn more about Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci and the many interesting characters that have marked the life of the “Earlier Mona Lisa.”

There is also a dedicated Kids tour for children aged 6-12.

 

Q: What is the plan of the foundation for this “Earlier Mona Lisa” painting? Will it be locked in a safe box in the Swiss Bank, or make frequent tours around the world or permanently showcased at a museum for the public to appreciate?

A: The plan is to organize a series of exhibitions worldwide. After Shanghai, the painting and exhibitions will travel to Beijing following which it will travel to the rest of the world.

 

Q: There is much evidence already that da Vinci painted this “Earlier Mona Lisa.” In your eyes, what is the most convincing proof that it is his early work?

Emeritus Professor John Asmus, through the analysis of “digital fingerprints” has published peer-reviewed scientific evidence in academic journals that it is 99 percent certain that the same artist painted both the Mona Lisas.

 

Q: It is possible that one day the “Earlier Mona Lisa” painting will be displayed with the “Mona Lisa” painting at the Louvre together?

A: Who knows? This would certainly make for quite a show!


 

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