Leonardo's Earlier Version'
In 2009, I received a most unusual commission: to research and write the story of a stunning Renaissance painting, now considered to be an earlier version of the ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci. This commission was proposed by The Mona Lisa Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Zurich, Switzerland, that, in turn, had been given the responsibility of promoting the painting, and, if possible, to confirm it as an authentic Leonardo.
The project, at that stage, presented numerous unique problems. Firstly about the painting itself. I was privileged to have been invited to inspect the picture, and satisfy myself that the project had enough merit to devote what turned out to be years of research time. To actually see at close up the artist’s treatment of the head, face and hands of the sitter portrayed in this early 16th. Century masterpiece was, simply, breathtaking. But apparently the last time that the painting had “seen light” was approximately 40 years previously. It was not owned by any public museum, but privately, and had been locked away in obscurity in a Swiss bank vault. There was very little documentation available, either about the painting itself, or its presence in art history.
Though this commission presented a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, I often asked myself during the course of the long research: “Why this painting?” The stunning portrait is not merely some anonymous run-of-the-mill picture, but one with a direct connection to “the Mona Lisa”, arguably the most famous painting in Western art. The research would ultimately lead to it being a direct challenge to the status quo of traditional academic thought; akin to suddenly claiming that the world was not flat after all. This investigation was not for the faint-hearted.
Secondly, not being a tenured professor of art history in some university might have been perceived as a disadvantage in the academic world. On the contrary, being completely independent of an often stifling and hierarchal university atmosphere allowed for creativity of thought, unfettered by the pressures of traditional theories. In any event, these days most books, documented histories, and often conflicting opinions of established “experts” are openly available to all.
I was free to think “outside the box”, and explore every possibility.
My qualifications include over 50 years as a professional artist and photographer; occasional writer on historical subjects (history was one of my own university ‘majors’); and a successful design and graphics services business. I admit to being a history “junkie”, and a lover of good detective stories. This project combined elements of a lifetime of personal interests. How could I turn this commission down?