Written All Over Her Face

Published on 8 December 2014

You don’t have to jet to Paris to admire the Mona Lisa. A younger version of the famed dame, also by Leonardo Da Vinci, is yours for viewing right here in Singapore.

TEXT BY JO TAN
Photo  The Mona Lisa Foundation

Since the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci influenced the development of art, science, mathematics, and hence, history, it’s appropriate that all these disciplines helped verify whether the Italian intellectual was the painter of the Earlier Mona Lisa (EML), an enigmatic artwork that surfaced in 1913, believed by experts to depict a younger version of the Louvre’s Mona Lisa.

“Historical evidence indicated that Da Vinci painted not one, but two paintings of Mona Lisa,” explains Joel Feldman, General Secretary of the Mona Lisa Foundation. “To cut a long story short, several documents and sketches indicate he painted Lisa del Giocondo in 1503, in a portrait featuring flanking columns like in EML. The Louvre’s Mona Lisa doesn’t have columns, and was definitely painted after 1508, since it uses a glazing technique he only developed late in his career.

“Next, to determine if the EML we had was by Da Vinci, we applied the mathematical golden ratio, or certain proportions he was very keen on using in his paintings. EML fits that ratio perfectly. Science came in with fingerprinting tests to see if EML was by the same artist as the Louvre version — analyses of the pigments used and carbon-dating tests on the canvas. It passed all with flying colours.

“Finally, were they of the same woman? Well, although the paintings are different sizes, if you bring them to the same scale on the computer, the ratio of the woman’s face, from forehead to nose, nose to mouth and so on, is exactly the same. The theory is, Da Vinci was very interested in the effects of aging on the human body around 1513, and the Louvre version was his idea of how the woman in EML would look 10 years later. We brought in a forensic expert experienced in locating missing children and used photographs of the children to determine what they would look like after aging several years. We asked him to regress the age of the Louvre Mona Lisa by 10 years. He confirmed she would be absolutely the same woman as in the EML.

With all this dramatic detective work, it’s no surprise people are psyched about EML’s exhibition in Singapore. In this first stop of her world tour, visitors will go through nine interactive galleries letting them exercise some Sherlockian skills, before coming face-to-face with the mysterious maiden herself.

“As a hub of exhibition expertise, Singapore is perfect in helping us put up exhibits like an interactive aging system, where visitors can see what they’d look like 10 years later,” says Feldman with a laugh. “Also, The Arts House or the prestigious Old Parliament building can be easily transformed into the heart of the Italian Renaissance. Even the columns there are very similar to those in the EML!

We’re excited to bring EML to Asia because none of the 15 paintings, agreed by experts to be by Da Vinci, are here. We hope to show the EML to people who may never have the chance to see his work elsewhere. It might not be as famous as its Louvre sibling, but we have little doubt that seeing this wonderful painting will be an emotional, stunning experience.”

Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ opens at The Arts House 16 Dec 2014.
The exhibition is on until 11 Feb 2015.

Supermodels of the Art World

Long before Giselle, Kate Moss, Adriana Lima & Co flaunted and posed, women like Lisa del Giocondo were gracing canvases of famous artists, their images captured and preserved to dazzle millions for generations to come. How did pretty women in eras past end up sitting for famous painters? Let us count the ways….

1. Be a Rich and Influential Person — Or Marry One

You could always pay your way to portrait immortality, even with a master like Leonardo Da Vinci, who accepted very few commissions for portraits. When he did, it was of nobles or their consorts. While Mona Lisa wasn’t noble by birth or marriage, her rich husband had connections in the Florentine government. Since Da Vinci was then competing with Michelangelo for a government painting commission (The Battle of Anghiari, now lost), one theory goes that he painted Lisa hoping it would land him the lucrative government project.

beguiling beauties Aline Charigot (portrait) and Alice Prin (sculpture on right) were both fresh French faces that launched a thousand — okay, several — artworks from various different artists. (Photo  Portrait of Madame Renoir, Philadelphia Museum of Art)

2. Date an Artist

Michelangelo wrote love poetry to several of his regular young male models, indicating romance, though not necessarily reciprocal. Less scandalously, French artist Renoir constantly featured his rosy bride Aline Charigot in his masterpieces. Impressionist hero Monet made his first wife Camille Doncieux the subject of many of his works. A popular woman, Doncieux also appeared in the paintings of her husband’s contemporaries Renoir and Manet.

Photo  Kiki de Montparnasse by Pablo Gargallo – Musée de Louvre

3. Be Artistic

French redhead Victorine Meurent and the London-born Elizabeth Siddal were both respected painters’ models in the mid-1800s, appearing in many works by different artists. While both were reportedly great beauties, they might also have gained popularity through artistic skill. The former became a celebrated painter who exhibited at the Paris Salon; the latter was also a poet who created some artworks of her own. Meanwhile, Alice Prin (variously known as Kiki and The Queen of Montparnasse) was a nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter who so symbolised bohemian Paris, she was painted and sculpted by dozens including Jean Cocteau and Alexander Calder.

WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends) English rose Lizzie Siddal featured in many paintings because she was lovely, literary and eventually, married to famous artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who had her star in several of his works, including the portrait below. (Photo  Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge))

4. Strut Your Stuff

In mid to late 1800s Paris, lovely ladies would stroll arty neighbourhoods like Montmartre or Montparnasse, hoping one of the many artists would hire them as models. While some women were said to offer ‘extra services’, others brought their mothers along to chaperone modelling sessions.

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