• 2021.10.20
  • Two Mona Lisas
Six years ago in the spring, I wrote about an unusual art exhibition where visitors could touch the paintings with their hands. The article is called “Touching the Mona Lisa?” (https://kc-i.jp/en/activity/kwn/yamada_s/20150409/)
Now, the Prado Museum has opened an exhibition to bring to the public aspects of research into the Museum's copy of the Mona Lisa, the painting I wrote about in that article.

“Leonardo y la copia de Mona Lisa. Nuevos planteamientos sobre la práctica del taller vinciano”
“Leonardo and the copy of the Mona Lisa. New approaches to the artist’s studio practices”
Venue: Prado Museum, Madrid
Dates: Tuesday, September 28, 2021 to Sunday, January 23, 2022
Website for this exhibition at the Prado Museum: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/whats-on/exhibitions

When the request came to the Prado Museum to lend its copy of the Mona Lisa for an exhibition held at the Louvre Museum, Paris in 2012 entitled
“La Sainte Anne, l’ultime chef-d’œuvre de Léonard de Vinci”
“Saint Anne, Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece,”
the painting was closely examined using infrared reflectography and other techniques, which revealed underneath the black background a painted landscape similar to the landscape in the original Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The black overcoating was removed, and the painting was restored to the way it looked at the time it was painted.

Photo 1

Photo 1: The pamphlet for the current exhibition. The left-hand side shows the painting before restoration and the right-hand side after restoration, with the black background removed.

The painting appeared in the inventory of the royal palace in Madrid as far back as 1666 and has been exhibited since the Prado Museum opened in 1819, but it had only been regarded as one among numerous copies of the Mona Lisa. Once the image below its surface was revealed and the process of the work’s creation became apparent, comparison of the two revealed that the process of painting the original work followed the same process as the reproduction, including the repainted parts, and it became clear that work on the two paintings proceeded simultaneously.

Which might mean the copy is a separate work painted by a student of Leonardo at the same time and with the same subject. The expensive materials used for the copy, including the walnut panel and lapis lazuli pigment, suggest that the work was commissioned separately from the original Mona Lisa and was executed in Leonardo’s studio under his authority and supervision.

Photo 2-1

Photo 2-2

Photo 2-1: The original and the copy.
Photo 2-2: Comparison with infrared reflectogram, which reveals what is painted below the surface of the finished work and tells us that this copy is not just a copy of the original after it was completed.

The name of the artist who painted this copy still remains unknown, but this same artist is thought to have had a hand in the copy of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, which was presented as da Vinci's last masterpiece in the exhibition at the Louvre that I mentioned, as well as a copy of his Salvator Mundi, which still holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 3 shows a copy of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (Hammer Museum collection). Photo 4 is the Ganay version of The Salvator Mundi (private collection), which is also included in this exhibition. Close examination of the processes involved in creating the works reached the conclusion that these three works were painted by the same person.

It might be a bit questionable to start talking about rankings and money, but I have always loved a bit of gossip, like the article I wrote a while ago about the world's most expensive dry-cured ham, so I got interested in this most expensive painting and looked into it. The Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci sold at Christie's New York auction house in 2017 for 450 million dollars, or 50.8 billion yen. In May 2015, the highest ever auction bid was 21.5 billion yen, for a work by Picasso, so it jumped to more than double that in one go.

Photo 5

Photo 6

The successful bidder was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and there were reports that it would be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, but the general opinion is that it is currently hanging in the Crown Prince's luxury superyacht Serene (photo 5). The cruiser is 134 meters long and is equipped with a helipad, 12 VIP guest cabins, cabins for 52 crew members, and even a wood-fired pizza oven.

The price of this ultra-super deluxe yacht was 500 million euros, or 67 billion yen at the exchange rate in 2014, so together with da Vinci's masterpiece, which is currently thought to be on the yacht, the combination represents 117.8 billion yen sailing the seas of the world. Photo 6 is The Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, which is probably ensconced in a first-class seat on the superyacht with perfectly controlled temperature and humidity. I understand that worshipping idols is discouraged in Islam, which makes me wonder about the consistency of this portrait of a non-Islamic god with the religion. But then maybe a question like that is just mean suspicion, or none of my business.

By the way, the Louvre requested in 2019 that The Salvator Mundi be loaned for their da Vinci exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death, but the request was not met, and The Salvator Mundi that was in fact included in the exhibition was not the original in photo 6 but the Ganay version (photo 4), which is currently exhibited in the Prado Museum.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

View a list of Susumu Yamada's

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