A Pleasant Surprise: Earliest Copy of Mona Lisa Discovered in Prado

The earliest known copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece Mona Lisa has been discovered by conservators at the Prado in Madrid.  Experts believe that this copy, originally hidden beneath black overpaint, was painted in Leonardo’s studio by one of his pupils alongside Master da Vinci himself.  The two key authorities at both the Louvre and the Prado have accepted this work as a copy, lending validity to this claim.


The copy is painted on walnut and is very close in size to the original.  Experts date this work to c. 1503-1506 and have narrowed down the artist as one of two of da Vinci’s pupils: Andrea Salai or Francesco Melzi.  The Prado’s curator Miguel Falomir identifies the work as a portrait listed in the 1666 inventory of Madrid’s Alcazar Palace. How or when it became a part of the Spanish Royal Collection remains a mystery.  As to why the black overpaint was applied over the background in the mid 1700’s, nobody can be certain.  Falomir’s best guess is that this effect was intended to assimilate the copy into an interior where other portraits had very dark backgrounds.

This copy is extremely important for two reasons: it informs us about Leonardo da Vinci’s studio practice and also reveals a lot about the original Mona Lisa.  This copy is better preserved than the original, so we may view the exact details that Leonardo intended us to witness upon his creation of the Mona Lisa – details that are no longer visible due to the Mona Lisa’s current condition. This copy is currently on loan to the Louvre in Paris so that visitors may view both the copy and the original side by side.

Information obtained from The Art Newspaper:

Bailey, Martin. “Earliest Copy of Mona Lisa Found in Prado.” The Art Newspaper, February 2012

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