A 16th-century painting of a nude Mona Lisa, once credited to Leonardo Da Vinci, will be displayed for the first time on Saturday as part of an extensive new exhibition from June 13 to September 30 at the Museo Ideale near Florence, Italy.
The event will be the largest Da Vinci show ever, with more than 5,000 works inspired by the original Mona Lisa on display at the opening in Leonardo’s hometown of Vinci. These include paintings, etchings, sculptures and new media images spanning 500 years.
Experts have established that the nude Mona Lisa (mona is the standard Italian contraction for madonna, meaning “my lady”) once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte’s uncle, the collector Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763-1839), who also owned Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of St. Jerome, which is now in the Vatican Museum.
Another nude will go on display, but its origin is still being investigated.
The exhibition will be curated by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi under the supervision of Carlo Peretti, the top Leonardo expert in the world.
The show will also reveal the latest scientific data from experts researching the original Mona Lisa, currently held in the Louvre in Paris.
The exhibition will be divided into two sections: the history of the Mona Lisa and so-called Leonardismo, or how the Mona Lisa grew into such an icon.
The historical section will include dating problems and the identity of the smiling model, and will display sculptures and etchings inspired by the painting dating back to the 16th-20th centuries.
Unlike most Renaissance portraits, Leonardo’s original Mona Lisa carries no date or signature, nor is the name of the sitter provided.
These exclusions, combined with the sitter’s enigmatic close-lipped smile, have spurred many theories about the woman’s identity.
Various contemporary noblewomen and court beauties have been suggested, including Isabella Gualanda and Isabella d’Este, while others have concluded that the sitter was Leonardo’s mother.
Still others claim the woman was Leonardo’s favorite young lover disguised as a woman. These academics point to the fact that da Vinci never surrendered the painting, holding it with him until his death in 1519 in Amboise, France. Furthermore, there no evidence that da Vinci was ever paid for the portrait or that it was ever delivered.
The Mona Lisa’s peculiar smile has triggered endless speculation and theories, the most eccentric of which were provided by medical experts who were also art lovers. Indeed, one group of medical researchers claimed the sitter’s mouth is so tightly shut because she was undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis that had turned her teeth black.
An American dentist speculated that the tight-lipped smile was common among people who have lost their front teeth. Meanwhile, a Danish physician was convinced she suffered from congenital palsy that affected the left side of her face, which would also explain why her hands are excessively large.
A French surgeon claimed she was semi-paralyzed, saying this also explained why one hand looks tense while the other appears relaxed.
An Italian doctor said the alleged puffy cheek and swollen hand means she had a ‘fatty blood’ disorder.
Image Courtesy Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci