French art experts from the Louvre Museum in Paris believe that a nude portrait of a woman – resembling the Mona Lisa – may have been sketched by Leonardo da Vinci.
Scientists at the museum have been examining the charcoal drawing of the woman known as the Monna Vanna – which had been attributed to Leonardo’s studio.
Monna Vanna is a large drawing that has been held since 1862 in the huge collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum, in the Chantilly palace, north of the French capital, reports the Guardian
Curators now believe that this sketch “is at least in part” by Leonardo.
Curator Mathieu Deldicque said: “The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable. It is not a pale copy.”
“We are looking at something which was worked on in parallel with the Mona Lisa at the end of Leonardo’s life. It is almost certainly a preparatory work for an oil painting,” he added.
The hands and body in the sketch were almost identical to that of the Mona Lisa, said Deldicque.
The drawing is also “almost the same size as the Mona Lisa,” and has small holes pierced around the figure which “suggest it may have been used to trace its form on to a canvas.”
A Louvre conservation expert confirmed the drawing was created during Leonardo’s lifetime at the turn of the 15th century, according to the Guardian.
Bruno Mottin told the Parisien newspaper that their tests had revealed “the high-quality work was not a copy of a lost original.”
However, he cautioned that “we must remain prudent” about attributing the sketch to Leonardo – the painter who died in Amboise, France, in 1519.
Mottin said: “The hatching on the top of the drawing near the head was done by a right-handed person. Leonardo drew with his left hand. It is job that is going to take some time. It is a very difficult drawing to work on because it is particularly fragile.”
The museum aims to establish the identity of the artist of Monna Vanna within two years which corresponds with the time for an exhibition at Chantilly – marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
According to the Guardian, more than 10 experts have been examining the drawing for the past few weeks – undergoing scans and using other scientific methods.
Their tests were centred on figuring out whether the drawing was made before or after the Mona Lisa – which was painted sometime after 1503.
Monna Vanna had originally been attributed to the Tuscan master when it was bought by the Duc d’Aumale in 1862 for 7,000 francs. However, specialists expressed their doubts later, and said it was probably the work of a member of Leonardo's studio.
There are around 20 paintings and drawings of nude Mona Lisas in collections across the world, however most are very difficult to date, the Guardian reports.