Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is probably one of the most talented and forward thinking polymath of all times. More than an artist, his interest and expertise spans across significant subject matters. Very often, his keen attention to details found in his sketches ranging from the human anatomy to the specific and complex engineering disciplines reflects his unending curiosity and vivid imagination.
Spending his early years at artist Andrea di Cione’s (also known as Verrochio) workshop, Leonardo da Vinci was exposed to a wide discipline of theoretical training, technical skills and artistic skills such as drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling. A standard apprenticeship involves both student and master painting side by side, or sometimes with the teacher finishing the main object of the painting, while the student add in the finishing touches in the background or other details. As Leonardo da Vinci worked in different cities and commissioned for different projects, his curiosity enabled him to explore different techniques of painting with the availability of materials such as oil paints on canvas and wood, and being in contact with travelling artists who have come to Verrochio’s workshop also made exploration of new painting techniques a constant influence.
His early paintings reflected a great deal in Leonardo da Vinci’s knowledge of the human body such as achieving near perfect flesh tone, folds of sleeves reflected by the interplay of light and shadow speaks of his scientific inquisitiveness, and even the background landscape which shows his interest in botany.
One of his famous painting, a small portrait know as Mona Lisa, or la Gioconda, the laughing one, has an almost lifelike and alluring effect on those who have seen it in the Louvre in Paris. Though it was painted from the suggested timeline of 1503-1507, few would have imagined that Leonardo da Vinci perhaps have painted an earlier version of a decade ago. This Earlier Mona Lisa, was also known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, was discovered by English art collector Hugh Blaker who brought it to his studio in Isleworth and thereby the name bestowed, had been found in the home of a Somerset nobleman whose family had it for over 100 years. Kept in a Swiss vault for over 40 years since then, the Earlier Mona Lisa had been kept in pristine condition, in contrast to the Louvre’s version that had been stolen and vandalised, the well preserved immaculate state enables authenticity tests to be verified by a panel of renowned experts in scientific research and analysis.
Unveiled for the very first time publicly with Singapore as its first stop, the Earlier Mona Lisa is exhibited at The Arts House at The Old Parliament from 16th December 2014 to 11th February 2015.
Dr Markus A. Frey, President of the Mona Lisa Foundation, explained that the foundation was setup with the assistance and advice of several art experts made up of art historians, scholars, museum curators and scientists. This helped provide the best environment for art experts to carry out their work independently. Even though its owners preferred not be named, public discussions and open dialogues and requests sent by interested parties enabled frank and honest dissection on the authenticity of the painting, and if it is painted by the same hand of the Louvre’s version. How does one confront the skeptics, or art historians who are baffled by inconsistency, even with technological advances in empirical scientific verification research ? Dr Frey replied wryly that the Mona Lisa Foundation takes a scientific approach looking at facts and building the theory around the facts available instead of the reverse, citing a null hypothesis theory approach, he added with a twinkle in his eye.
The findings on the painting made via optical engineering delved further into the scientific identification of the artist’s hand to wean out forgeries and to study the Leonardo fingerprint. With the facts presented by graphical analysis and histograms, even Mona Lisa experts are stunned by the conformity, with some commented that it is even more precise than Rembrandt’s self portraits, remarked by Professor John F. Asmus, a research physicist and pioneer in the digitization of artwork and art diagnostics. In addition to explaining paintings with emphasis on chiaroscuro, a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of light contrasts to achieve a sense of volume in three-dimensional objects and figures produces positive tests, there are also statistical results of digitised images made public for the first time and released to the media by another guest speaker Professor Vadim Parfenov, whom focuses his research of laser and opto-electronic techniques in Cultural Heritage preservation.
Even though The Earlier Mona Lisa release generated a huge amount of media interest in North America and Europe, the reaction is particularly overwhelming from China. Coupled with the logical and empirical approach, the Mona Lisa Foundation chose Singapore as a hub to build the exhibition with an English speaking gateway as well as making it an interactive exhibition, re-enactment with period costumes and convincing scientific analysis presented visually, with the support of the National Arts Council and the Singapore Tourist Board.
The Earlier Mona Lisa has underwent more tests than any other painting without evidences of negative proof, with a combination of science and connoisseurship, aka the human eye to allowing primarily a failure to disprove, then a secondary connoisseur to positively prove. As more and more scientifically proven tests convinced that the Earlier Mona Lisa is painted by the same hand as the Louvre’s version, the Mona Lisa Foundation’s duty is to make the painting available for public viewing as it is an artwork spent too long hidden. As to the query of the Louvre’s opinion on this painting, the invitation to examine and evaluate findings together reflects how the art world collaboratively operates.
Professor Jean-Pierre Isbouts, an acclaimed art historian and National Geographic author, cites to provide potential answers, he made reference that only the human eye is able to tell if it is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Having personally spent 2 hours gazing at the first visit, he is floored and mesmerised by the cleanliness of the painting, unlike the Louvre’s version which has been exposed to the elements. To explicate further on the subtle modulation between the transition of light and shadow, there is magic in the painting. With very little known during Leonardo da Vinci’s life between 1500-1507, even then the 2nd Florentine period is known to conventionally stereotype women in paintings, Leonardo da Vinci being the forward thinker broke away with this formalization of 15th century art to develop a sensory, realistic depiction of female beauty, with almost porcelain like frailty, especially so when the period of the artists’ cult personality is several decades away. His habit of not dating his paintings also made scientific verification more credible as research and analysis starts at base zero and bearing research credibility and authenticity.
If this panel of qualified researchers is doing something right, the truth is definitely out there.
Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Earlier Mona Lisa‘ is exhibited from 16th December 2014 to 11th February 2015 from 11am to 10pm at The Arts House at the Old Parliament.