Leonardo's Hidden Technique
Once in a while, often by pure happenchance more than design, one might just fall on an extraordinarily revealing discovery. One such is what I termed ‘Leonardo’s Hidden Technique’. One day, in our Toronto studios, while checking some geometric measurements in both the ‘Earlier’ and Louvre versions of the ‘Mona Lisa’, a simple experiment produced a startling result.
The figure in the ‘Earlier Version’ is about 10% smaller than its Louvre counterpart, yet the canvas support upon which it is painted is actually larger than the Louvre panel. We digitally enlarged the ‘Earlier’ figure to the same proportions as the Louvre one, placed the two images side-by-side, and made some elementary comparisons. By drawing straight horizontal lines through certain random points, we discovered that the marker fell on exactly the same places on both portraits.
Bearing in mind again that the ‘Earlier’ figure is, in reality, smaller than the Louvre one, and that no computers or digital equipment existed 500 years ago, how could any artist have known those exact proportions and measurements? The overwhelming logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that not only was it the same artist for both, but one who was also a master of geometric proportion.
Another fascinating discovery was the amount of detail in the embroidery pattern employed in both paintings – not just the superficial similarity between them, but the subtle differences that, while making them appear similar, clearly identified the artist’s decision to paint two separate portraits of the same person. The glorious and delicate treatment of light and shade on the fabric, and the subtle differences of the interlacing, are subjects most art historians and scholars of this subject have never even bothered to approach.
The Flanking Columns
The conspicuous flanking columns on the ‘Earlier Version’ are of particular interest. I have proposed theories as to why they are there in the first place, as well as detailing other paintings, both originals and copies, which they have influenced.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Newly released photographs of part of the Basilica’s arcade show columns dating from the time of the original construction in the early 1470s. While the surrounding walls have obviously undergone restorations throughout the centuries, the stone columns and their bases have been maintained in their natural condition. Allowing for over 540 years of climate erosion, these pillars are a virtual dead match to the ones depicted in the ‘Earlier Version’. Is it possible that Leonardo posed his most famous model here ?
Leonardo da Vinci was housed within this complex from October 24th, 1503; exactly the period when he was recorded to be working on his earlier version of ‘Mona Lisa’.