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The Earlier Mona Lisa (left) shows a younger and prettier Mona Lisa than the one at the Louvre, Paris (right), and with a completely different backdrop. Studies show that da Vinci painted it in 1503, but left it unfinished

S'pore to host Mona Lisa show

"Leonardo da Vinci's Earlier Mona Lisa" exhibition kicks off in Singapore in December before it travels the globe.
Oct 17, 2014 5:50 AM

ONE of the world's most famous portraits is the Mona Lisa, seen by six million people a year at the Louvre in Paris. Mysteries that swirled around Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the lady have ranged from her identity to her smile. Then, there are the controversial copies.

Now, one such "copy" - authenticated only two years ago by the Mona Lisa Foundation and most experts as a genuine painting by Da Vinci - will have its inaugural exhibition in Singapore.

In December, Singapore will be the first venue in the world to host "Leonardo da Vinci's Earlier Mona Lisa" exhibition before it travels around Asia and then to North America and Western Europe.

"The exhibition was something that we started working on two years ago, after we unveiled the portrait to the public - which had been sitting in a bank vault for over 40 years - and published a book on the historical and scientific studies authenticating the Earlier Mona Lisa painting," says Joel Feldman, the general secretary of The Mona Lisa Foundation.

The Earlier Mona Lisa painting - an earlier and younger version of Mona Lisa than the one in the Louvre, Paris - was also formerly known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa. It was first discovered in 1913 in the Somerset home of a British aristocrat by an art collector, who bought it and brought it back to his studio in Isleworth, south-west London, to restore it.

The painting was shipped to the US during World War One for safe-keeping, and in 1915, an art historian wrote a monograph of the painting. He later published a book detailing why it's an earlier version of the Mona Lisa.

In the 1960s, the painting was bought by another art collector and gallerist Dr Henry Pulitzer. He kept it at a Swiss bank from the 1970s. The painting was bought by an anonymous "international consortium" in 2008, says Mr Feldman, who can't disclose the name of the consortium.

But the case that it's an earlier unfinished portrait of Lisa del Giocondo fuelled much research. The Mona Lisa Foundation, a Swiss non-profit foundation set up in 2010, collated over 35 years' worth of research on it to finally conclude that this portrait is most likely the precursor of the world-acclaimed Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

The foundation presented their findings and unveiled the painting of the Earlier Mona Lisa in 2012. Studies show that da Vinci painted it in 1503, but left it unfinished. In 1513, he starting another painting, commissioned by Giuliano de Medici, which is the one now showing at the Louvre. The Earlier Mona Lisa also shows a younger and prettier Mona Lisa than the one at the Louvre, and with a completely different backdrop.

The painting was flown to Singapore in January this year, where it's now kept at the Singapore Freeport until it's brought out to the public in December, at The Arts House.

The exhibition, which was designed and built in Singapore, is a state-of-the-art interactive and multi-media experience where visitors will be provided with tablets and brought through 30 "stations" across nine interactive galleries before seeing the painting itself at the heart of the Arts House, the former Chambers of Parliament.

"While the centrepiece of the exhibition is the painting, we also want the exhibition to show the historical research and scientific studies that went into authenticating the painting. It's quite complex material," says Mr Feldman, explaining that's the reason why the foundation decided not to hold the exhibition at the National Museum or Singapore Art Gallery.

"The show will be for the art enthusiasts, schoolchildren and history lovers," he adds.

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Earlier Mona Lisa' exhibition will be held from Dec 15 to Feb 11, 2015. Tickets for the exhibition go on sale on Nov 17 through Sistic. Exclusive ticket pre-bookings are reserved for American Express Card members until Nov 16. The Mona Lisa Foundation has chosen Operation Smile Singapore as the event beneficiary for the worldwide premiere of the exhibition