This semi-nude portrait may seem very familiar to many of you…
This figure’s stance, hands, inscrutable smile, and enigmatic backdrop, all bear a striking resemblance to one of the most famous paintings in the world: the Mona Lisa.
Much like the Mona Lisa, there is something alluring and intriguing about this figure’s smile and the strange musculature of her stature.
Despite what you must be thinking, this is not a naked version of the Mona Lisa.
This painting is actually based on a preparatory drawing on cardboard known as La Joconde nue, which is today housed in the Museo Condé del castello di Chantilly. The preparatory cartoon (cartone) features pinholes which would have been used to transfer the outline of the design with the use of charcoal powder, in order to execute an oil painting.
However, the presence of lead white strokes which highlight certain aspects of the drawing suggests that this cartoon was never destined to be discarded after its use, but is rather a ‘ben finito’ drawing. After all, is it unusually large for a preparatory sketch (77.5 x 52 cm).
The drawing was often believed to have been executed by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s followers. However, recent studies have concluded that it was at least partly executed by da Vinci himself. Experts found left-handed charcoal marks all over the drawing, and da Vinci was famously left-handed. Moreover, the drawing exhibits da Vinci’s famous technique of sfumato, namely a smoky mistiness achieved by the soft blending of colours to achieve depth. There are no harsh outlines, and that evokes a more convincing sense of depth.
Studies have concluded that the drawing was completed in c.1514-1516, and was most likely executed alongside the Mona Lisa which was painted in c.1503.
The drawing has often been wrongly been referred to as The Nude Mona Lisa, and La Monna Vanna (meaning The Vain Woman).
It has more recently been suggested that the painting is meant to be an idealised Venus, or an idealised portrait of the female sitter in the guise of Venus.
Despite these recent findings, this drawing still baffles art historians today. We don’t know the identity of the commissioner or of the sitter. There is still no documentary evidence that speaks of its genesis. The only possible allusion to this drawing is a brief notation in a 1525 post-mortem inventory, which mentions a ‘meza nuda’ (‘semi-nude’) portrait amongst various copies of Leonardo’s works.
What we do know is that this preparatory drawing certainly influenced many other paintings. This oil on canvas painted version of the drawing is currently housed in the Villa Farnesina in Rome (it will be on display from July 6th – October 2nd 2020). It is exhibited in a small hall known as the Chigi Room that was once the studio of the very wealthy banker Agostino Chigi. While on temporary exhibit, it is labelled as The Naked Gioconda.
Will this drawing always remain a mystery? Or will we one day uncover its secrets?
A Mona Lisa for the Banker, Information Leaflet at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, (2020).
Dianne Hales, Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, Simon and Schuster, 2014.
F. Q., "La Monna Lisa nuda è davvero opera di Leonardo da Vinci": gli esami del Louvre lo confermano, Il Fatto Quotidiano (Marzo 2019), available at: https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2019/03/06/la-monna-lisa-nuda-e-davvero-opera-di-leonardo-da-vinci-gli-esami-del-louvre-lo-confermano/5018136/.
Malcolm D. Mahr, The Nude Gioconda: In Search of Da Vinci's Lost Masterpiece, America Star Books, 2007.
Vincent Noce, French exhibition aims to reveal naked truth about 'nude Mona Lisa,' The Art Newspaper (May 2019), available at: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/nude-mona-lisa-is-naked-truth-revealed.