Talk #79, 6/5/13

Seeing Double: Leonardo’s Mona Lisa Twin

Dr. John F. Asmus
Research Physicist
Department of Physics
University of California San Diego


It is a curious fact that Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of what have become his most celebrated artworks. Most notable of these famous pictures are his “Virgin of the Rocks” (London National Gallery and Louvre), “Virgin and Child” (Hermitage and Munich Alte Pinakothek), and “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne” (London National Gallery and Louvre.) For centuries there has been speculation concerning the possible existence of a second Mona Lisa, as well. Countless Mona Lisa copies have surfaced through the ages and several have been advanced as the long-lost “Second Mona Lisa”, only to be dismissed after failing scientific or historical scrutiny.Twenty-three years ago the heirs of the late Joseph Pulitzer asked Dr.Asmus to examine a painting known as the “Isleworth Mona Lisa” that was in the family collection of fine art. This invitation was extended in response to his ten-year study of the varnishes and pentimenti of the Louvre “Mona Lisa.” The studies led to the conclusion that the intricate geometrical principles employed in the two paintings were identical even though individual features are different in both size and proportion. Thus it was clear that the Isleworth portrait was not a mere copy of the painting in the Louvre.Subsequently, the Isleworth painting has passed every scientific test available in art conservation science from radiocarbon dating to digital-image age regression. It has emerged that Leonardo painted the Isleworth piece around 1503 and the Louvre portrait around 1513. This discovery settles a protracted debate among art historians as to whether Leonardo painted the “Mona Lisa” in 1503 or 1513. Both dates are correct, but for different paintings. In this presentation Dr. Asmus will provide background and technical details for these investigations.


The following is a link to the presentation (pdf file extension).