a 500-year-old mystery solved: Why Raphael Is an artist behind the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' and what that means for the louvre version


raphael mona lisa

© 2016 Taylor Kinahan. All Rights Reserved.

Unbeknownst to a vast majority of the general public, there is a second Mona Lisa in existence. In fact, there are dozens of Mona Lisas, some thought to be painted by Leonardo da Vinci's students,[2] and others by convincing copyists. But there is one in particular that has captured the attention of art scholars and critics across the globe for over a century now. This painting is referred to by some as the "Earlier Mona Lisa" who strongly believe it to be the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and by others as the "Isleworth Mona Lisa," who refute that claim and refer to it based  on the location of the studio in a town near London, where Mr. Blaker (the man who first brought the painting to light) is situated.[3]

The sitter in the painting, eerily similar in appearance to the subject depicted in the world famous version that we all know so well today, is thought to be Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant living in Florence in the early 1500's.[3]  The deep curiosity surrounding this artwork is rooted in the fact that the copy shows uncanny geometric and stylistic similarities to that of the Louvre version hanging in Paris; and furthermore, before its discovery in 1914, there were at least two prominent art historians from the 16th century who mentioned the possibility of there being two different Mona Lisa commissions, both painted by Leonardo da Vinci.[4] 


The reason why it is of such great importance to uncover the true identity behind it's creator is twofold: 1) If it is in fact the work of Leonardo da Vinci's, then we can say with unassailable confidence that the world's most famous painting has a long-lost twin sister, or 2) if it is the work of another world famous painter from the High Renaissance, then the Mona Lisa now has a direct competitor, albeit an incomplete, yet stunning adversary of considerable monetary, artistic, and symbolic value.

After noticing key visual similarities between the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa,' and other works by Raphael, it became self-evident that Raphael, who was also living in Florence at the time of Leonardo's alleged commission, had contributed to the creation of this painting. To substantiate what was initially an intuitive inclination, I gathered ample evidence through comparative analysis, historical data, and mathematical ratios, to put forth, and confidently support the claim that the face of the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' was, without question, painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, otherwise known as Raphael, the "Mortal God."


the isleworth mona lisa by raphael and da vinci
The Isleworth Mona Lisa

In order to best illustrate my position, it is optimal that I cover as many historical facts and contrarily held positions as possible, to most accurately depict the entirety of the known story. Consequently, there will be many details that do not directly authenticate my assertions, and to the contrary, may stand in direct opposition to them. Furthermore, these details may be perceived as dense and dry to a casual reader, thus distracting from the precise claim I wish to substantiate; so therefore, I will begin by stating the crux of my assertion, providing a captivating snapshot of the most essential evidence to be put forth that indisputably supports my claim that Raphael is in fact the painter of the Isleworth Mona Lisa's face. Following this display of captivating scientific attributes and visual representations, I will then outline a more comprehensive and holistic thesis, from beginning to end, where I will flesh out in greater detail, all aspects of the Mona Lisa mystery grounded in art, history, math, and color theory.


Visual Representations

Watch closely below as the face of the 'Young Lady with Unicorn' morphs perfectly into the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa.'

The red anchor points above help to prove a proportional comparison of identical facial orientation.
And again, above we can observe the 'Head of a Youth,' a drawing done by Raphael in 1500 (which predates his time spent with Leonardo in Florence),[1] seamlessly morphing into the 'Young Lady with Unicorn;' showing how Raphael likely used 'sketch templates' or underdrawings as a basis for his paintings.


Since the facial structure of the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' matches with that of the 'Young Lady with Unicorn,' and the 'Young Lady with Unicorn' appears to be identical to the 'Head of a Youth,' we can see that through a sort of transitive property, the 'Head of a Youth' perfect aligns and matches with the geometric orientation of the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa,' further providing proof that Raphael is the painter behind the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa('s)' face. The red dots that appear over both works of art, have been added by me, and serve as anchor points to draw your eyes toward the prominent lines that frame the face, so you can see exactly how the two figures match up.

Corroborating Facial Dimensions

The following measurements are a dry interpretation of the visual animations presented above, but are of extreme importance nonetheless in providing a mathematics-based argument that is highly defensible and proves that the faces of the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' and the 'Young Lady with Unicorn' (a painting known to have been completed by Raphael in 1505 or 1506),[21] are of the exact same proportions, and thus, painter. 

Identical Ratios found in the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' to that of the 'Young Lady with Unicorn':
1. The height of the face (from chin to hairline; centered) is 1.5 times the width of the face (excluding the hair, as measured from the center of the eyes); i.e. the width is 0.666 times the height
2. The distance from the bottom of the chin to the bottom of the lip (centered) is 0.151515 times the height of the entire face (also centered, from chin to hairline)
3. The distance between the top of the upper lip to the bottom of the nose (both centered) is 0.060606 the distance of the entire height of the face (from chin to hairline; centered)
4. The height from the bottom of the nose to the middle of the eyes (centered) is 0.272727 times the entire height of the face (from chin to hairline, centered)
5. The width of eyes from the outer most edge of the eyeballs (centered) is .681818 the distance of the entire width of the face (centered at eye level)
6. The width of the eyes between the inner most edge of each eyeball (centered) is 0.272727 the entire width of the face
7. The distance between the top eye crease to the eyebrow (centered) is 0.060606 the entire height of the face

8. The distance between the top of the eyebrow to the hairline (centered) is 0.3181818 times the entire height of the face (centered)

Additionally, when comparing the proportional facial orientation of the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' with that of the 'Head of a Youth,' also known to have been drawn by Raphael in 1500,[1] we find that their dimensions are identical to one another, grounded in the ratios stated above -- excluding numbers 1 and 8, simply because the sketch gets cut off and the borders are immeasurable to a precise degree.

Now, I shall proceed with the entirety of the thesis, beginning with citations from early historical texts.

Historical Context

Descriptions of this alleged "earlier painting" can be found in the writings of the historian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote in 1550—and again in 1568—that Leonardo had worked on a portrait of Lisa, that her husband commissioned, but left unfinished after four years (1503 - 1506).[4] The (Louvre) Mona Lisa hangs as a complete portrait (it also entered the collection of Francis I at Fontainebleau, which is unlikely to house an unfinished painting), leading some experts to conclude that Vasari saw a second version of it. Other mentions of the existence of two different commissions of the same sitter appear in a travel journal written by Antonio de Beatis, secretary to Cardinal Luigi of Aragon, and in Gian Paolo Lomazzo’s 1584 treatise on painting.[4] These historical texts are what originally prompted people like Mr. Blaker to search for the 'earlier version' of the Mona Lisa, and eventually, find it. 

During Leonardo da Vinci's time spent in Florence in the early 1500's, it is said that he met a man by the name of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant and also the man who allegedly commissioned the Mona Lisa. What is curious is the manner in which Francesco del Giocondo convinced Leonardo to paint the portrait in the first place.  It is thought that at the time, Leonardo had resigned temporarily from portrait commissions, and had spent most of his time filling thousands of pages of his notebooks with conceptual designs of military weapons, flying machines and architectural inventions, thus capturing nearly the totality of his attention over painting. It is said that Francesco made him an offer he could not refuse.[6]  The void of historical facts subsequent to 1503 on the topic of the Mona Lisa has created the deep-rooted and everlasting mystery that has beset the world for over five hundred years. The Mona Lisa is the world's undisputed heavyweight champion of the art world and is undoubtedly the most famous, most sung about, most praised, and most referenced painting of all time.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa, as I will refer to it for the remainder of my thesis, first gained mass notoriety in 1913 when Hugh Blaker, an art connoisseur and collector, found it among some artwork at a British manor house. He had been searching all his life for the alleged second Mona Lisa that had been written about by art historians for centuries; so you can imagine, when the Isleworth Mona Lisa was found in the early part of the 20th century, people naturally and immediately credited the work to that of Leonardo da Vinci based on how similar it appeared to the version hanging in the Louvre. Despite early and still staunch believers of this theory, held by a considerable number of people in the high art community, it's origins still remain in question to this day.

The current owners of the painting, the Swiss consortium, locked the painting in a vault for 40 years and during that time, performed extensive research with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, claiming that new scientific findings support its claim that the “Isleworth Mona Lisa” is an earlier version of Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century portrait.[8] Despite the vast amounts of research performed on the artwork, including carbon dating, one can see where the conflict of interest arises as it's owner, who would ultimately and heavily profit from such claims being deemed valid. One of the lead opponents of this claim is preeminent art historian Martin Kemp of Oxford, claiming that it is merely an inauthentic copy made sometime after the original was found after Leonardo's death in 1519.[9]

Aesthetically, many critics have admitted that the Isleworth Mona Lisa is easier on the eyes, and portrays a younger more attractive woman, than that of the Louvre version. Also interesting to note is that the Isleworth Mona Lisa was never completed by it's creator -- the portrait is left unfinished to this day. Which begs the question, if it is a copy, what prevented the emulator from finishing the job? Or similarly, if it were started by Leonardo, what prevented him from completing it, and then starting over from scratch?  It is this painting, combined with the Mona Lisa, that have raised questions, eyebrows, and mystery for over five centuries. Who is Mona Lisa? Were there two commissions of the same sitter? Did Leonardo paint the Isleworth Mona Lisa? If so, why would he paint two versions? Or if he only painted one, why would he hold on to it for 16 years, never delivering it to the wealthy merchant? 


One answer, as I shall substantiate through considerable amounts of evidence and comparative analysis, that also provides partial solutions to other outstanding questions, is: the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa was undoubtedly painted by Raphael in the early part of the 16th century. This being true, it is also highly probably that the location in which it was created was Florence, and the sitter is highly likely to have been Lisa del Giocondo.

Leondardo was a mathematician, scientist, and engineer above all else. It was through his use of mathematics and geometry that he was able to become such an immaculate painter. His love for art was a scientific pursuit. In the 15th and 16th centuries, artist were effectively scientist in the way that they would dissected human bodies, quite literally, to determine their shape, size, relative proportions, and properties within space. They would then use those formulas to accurately represent those shapes in a realistic manner as three dimensional objects on a flat surface -- the canvas. By strategically orienting shapes and color onto a canvas, with perceived texture and lighting, one is able to portray ideas, people and emotions that can endure through time, precisely as the Mona Lisa has.

Raphael, also a legend of the High Renaissance, was 31 years younger than Leonardo da Vinci, yet was fortunate enough to work with him during his brief stint in Florence, between 1504 to 1507, before leaving for Rome where he would work the rest of his life as a painter, architect and designer for Pope Julius II in Vatican City.[10] Raphael was Leonardo's pupil and spent much time learning from him in his studio and "copying" his work.  As directly quoted by the Mona Lisa Foundation (a foundation established solely as a means for seeking answers to this great debate): "In 1504, Raphael came to Florence to hone his talents and for a short time became apprenticed to Leonardo da Vinci." According to Professor Giuseppe Pallanti, who has written the most exhaustive history of Lisa del Giocondo, her husband and their respective families, Raphael was living in Florence during the time of Leonardo's commission, and actually lived at the rear entrance to the Taddei palazzo where he was a guest, facing the residence of the del Giocondo family.[11]

It was during this time, or shortly thereafter, that Leonardo's young apprentice is believed to have produced a small pen and brown ink sketch of a young woman. This portrait is of major importance to the history of the Mona Lisa -- art historians and Leonardo experts universally agree that this drawing was directly influenced by the painting of Mona Lisa del Giocondo while Leonardo was actually working on it.[11] It is also extremely important to note that The Zurich Institute carried out a carbon-dating test on the canvas of its painting and found that it was almost certainly manufactured between 1410 and 1455 - refuting claims that it was a late 16th century copy. The Mona Lisa foundation also dates the "Ealier Mona Lisa" to sometime between 1503 and 1506 which was during the window of time Raphael was in Florence with Leonardo.[12] Additionally, Raphael's famous sketch of the Mona Lisa was also done in 1504, at the beginning of his stay in Florence.[12] Science shows that all artworks seem to have originated around the same time in history.

raphael sketch of mona lisa da vinci leonardo
Sketch of Mona Lisa by Raphael

Contrary to the belief that the drawing was done based on sheer memory of the Mona Lisa, I believe that it actually preceded the painting and is a direct and proportionate copy of the master sketch, or underdrawing that was used on both the (Louvre) Mona Lisa and the Isleworth Mona Lisa.  It is known that both the Louvre version and the Isleworth Mona Lisa both used underdrawings as the basis for their creation. By using a technique known as pouncing in which one transfers a sketch to a canvas by poking holes in the sketch paper and then painting over them as the sketch lays on top of the canvas, one is able to create an underdrawing, or visual framework, from which to work off of. 

Pascal Cotte, a French scientist, who believes the Isleworth Mona lisa is the work of Leonardo da Vinci, pioneered a scientific technique known as the Layer Amplification Method (LAM), which he used to analyze the unseen layers beneath the Mona Lisa. It works by "projecting a series of intense lights" onto the painting, Mr Cotte said. A camera then takes measurements of the lights' reflections and from those measurements, Mr. Cotte said he is able to reconstruct what has happened between the layers of the paint. And it it is through this technique that he has found traces of an underdrawing.[17]  Raphael and Leonardo both utilized this technique, as well as many other Italian and Dutch painters of the day,[4] and hence it is my belief that they used this technique when creating both the Isleworth Mona Lisa and the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, respectively, using the same underdrawing, likely drawn in most part by Leonardo. 

It is said and widely known that Raphael often copied the techniques and works of his masters and peers,[14] namely Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. According to the Mona Lisa Foundation, in his masterwork, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, first published in 1550, Giorgio Vasari is particularly effusive effusive the way that Raphael’s work was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Raphael went to Florence in the early years of the 16th Century with the intention of studying great artists and took the opportunity of observing Leonardo at work on, among other projects, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the young wife of Francesco del Giocondo. He wrote:

“ … after seeing the works of Leonardo da Vinci, who had no peer in the expressions of heads both of men and of women, had surpassed all other painters in giving grace and movement to his figures, he [Raphael] was left marveling and amazed; and in a word, the manner of Leonardo pleasing him more than any other that he had ever seen, he set himself to study it, and abandoning little by little, although with great difficulty, the manner of Pietro [Perugino], he sought to the best of his power and knowledge to imitate that of Leonardo. But for all his diligence and study, in certain difficulties he was never able to surpass Leonardo; and although it appears to many that he did surpass him in sweetness and in a kind of natural facility, nevertheless he was by no means superior to him in that sublime groundwork of conceptions and that grandeur of art in which few have been the peers of Leonardo. Yet Raffaello came very near to him, more than any other painter, and above all in grace of colouring.[12]

It should be noted that although Giorgio Vasari is a credible and well respected art historian from the 1500's, him stating that Leonardo da Vinci was unsurpassed by Raphael in painting, in all respects, is strictly of his own opinion. The Mona Lisa Foundation goes on to say that Raphael copied certain works of Leonardo’s during his stay in Florence. With the two men sharing the same studio, same ideas, the same dialogue, it is apparent that there must have been a close overlap of sketches, lessons, and possibly even portraits.

Many famous painters during the Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age are known for having teams of apprentices completing sometimes up to 90% of their paintings for them, before applying the finishing touches in their own idiosyncratic and masterful way. For example, Peter Paul Rubens entrusted Anthony Van Dyke, and others, to perform up to 90% of his paintings before finishing it off, as a way to to save him time.[15] In some respects, one can argue, Peter Paul Rubens had created a sort of art assembly line to increase his output. Knowing that apprentices, of varying degrees of skill, albeit extremely skillful ones nonetheless, were entrusted to complete a bulk of the paintings tells me that there is a strict methodology and even mathematical science applied to the art of painting that could be easily be taught and transferred from one painter to another.

Despite the sound mathematical formulas and extremely accurate geometric proportions as depicted by Leonardo through his artwork, one thing that he arguably lacked was a sweetness in coloration and vigor in sexuality -- features that Raphael undoubtedly mastered during his short-lived, yet highly prolific lifetime. Raphael became known as a "Moral God" during his time spent working for Pope Julius II because of his mastery of painting.[16] His paintings exuded a subtle vivaciousness, as if a direct byproduct of his own rampant and renown sexual promiscuity, that seemed to emanate from his paintings. This stands in stark contrast to the seemingly chaste and asexual appearances of the characters that Leonardo da Vinci would draw.  This visual queue helped to nudge me in the direction of understanding a unique distinction between the (Louvre) Mona Lisa and the Isleworth Mona Lisa.

isleworth and louvre mona lisa comparison raphael leonardo da vinci

It is my belief that while Raphael was living in Florence, studying under Leonard da Vinci -- who was working on his portrait of Lisa Del Giocande at the time -- and for an unidentified reason, was given an opportunity to work on his own version of the Mona Lisa, either by instruction of Leonardo or based on his own wayward volition. Because Raphael lived next door to Lisa and worked very closely with Leonardo, it is not unlikely that he too became invested in the project.  Eager to advance his career and following Leonardo's every move, he was likely sworn to secrecy, as most apprentices were, thus shrouding the historical facts surrounded the events that would ensue, giving rise to a five hundred year mystery. Despite a strict conviction to secrecy, word of a "second" Mona Lisa must have been revealed in some capacity as it was learned and written about by several historians during the 16th century.


After Raphael had completed his initial sketch of Lisa -- the one that now hangs in the Louvre in Paris -- Leonardo taught his young apprentice the importance of geometry and math in painting and portrait drawing. Despite how rough or inaccurate a sketch may first appear, by applying mathematical formulas to it, human imperfection in craftsmanship can be masked, and a more accurate and intentional depiction can be portrayed. Painting is a science, Leonardo must have explained to the then young and ambitious Raphael. If one were to apply all the proper dimensions and geometric formulas of life, that are appealing to the eye, onto paper, than one could transfer and accurately depict a multidimensional reality onto a two-dimensional surface. Both in the dimensions of the human body and the dimensions of objects placed in relation to one another on the canvas, and in space. Leonardo da Vinci clearly had formulas that he relied upon to please the eye and satisfy his artistic and symbolic intentions, and likely shared those, to a certain extent, with Raphael.

Supporting Evidence

If you recall in Raphael's famous sketch of the Mona Lisa, there are two columns that sit on either side of the subject. Similarly, in the Isleworth Mona Lisa, two columns flank the sitter.; and moreover, the base of the same pair of columns are also faintly discernible mid-way down the frame in the Louvre version of the Mona Lisa. The base of each set is composed of an identical three ridge style, although hardly noticeable on the Louvre version.

raphael sketch of mona lisa next to isleworth and louvre mona lisa side by side da vinci showing similarities picture photo

Mona lisa column base in louvre close up picture
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is larger than the (Louvre) version, but not by much, and if you lay one on top of the other, proportionally, they align to a near exact degree.  You will also notice that if you lay the Raphael drawing on top of the Isleworth Mona Lisa, and then the 'Isleworth' over the Louvre version, they all seem to roughly match in terms of the geometric proportions of the sitter in relation to the columns.

louvre mona lisa on top of isleworth mona lisa raphael sketch on top of isleworth mona lisa matching pillars base photo picture comparison
close up of raphael sketch mona lisa louvre and isleworth column comparison
symmetrical proportional lines show similarities in louvre and isleworth mona lisa when side by side
isleworth mona lisa and louvre mona lisa with golden ratio from mona lisa foundation

More importantly, one should observe that by comparing the distance between the base of both pillars (at it's inner most point extended down to where the column meets the ledge), with the top of the skull in all three artworks, it is exactly proportional, creating a perfect 60 degree equilateral triangle. It is within this triangular framework that the viewer's eyes are naturally drawn in.
raphael sketch isleworth mona lisa and lourve mona lisa all with perfect triangle on top comparison between top of head and base of pillars

Had the base been moved up or down ever so slightly in relation to the sitter's head in any of the artworks, the triangle would no longer be deemed as equilateral. It is my belief that this deliberate framing technique was applied to the underdrawing sketch and served as a starting point in a series of deliberate math formulas that Leonardo da Vinci would use when attempting to construct an ideal portrait as perceived by the human mind. The chances of Raphael's sketch, which is predominantly believed to have been done by memory, matching this same equilateral orientation is highly improbable.

* Please note that the tip of the triangle overlaid on both the Isleworth Mona Lisa and (Louvre) Mona Lisa does not match exactly with the height of the subjects head, despite being extremely close; but there is an explanation for this, as I will explain in greater detail later, further providing proof that both paintings used the same or an extremely similar and proportional underdrawing.

What compounds my interest and belief in the 'identical underdrawing theory' is that if you inspect Raphael's, "Young Lady with Unicorn," painted in 1506, also within the time frame that Raphael was working with Leonardo, you'll notice that likewise with this portrait, there is a perfect triangle between the top of the subjects head and the base of the pillar. The golden ratio can also be applied to this painting showing a general adherence to the rule. To me, this indicates that the sketch used as an underdrawing for both of the Mona Lisas, was likely also used on this painting (seen below).

girl with unicorn raphael painting with perfect triangle and golden ration laid over picture


You can also see that by comparing Pascal Cotte's artistic recreation of the first, most underlying version of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, there are uncanny similarities between the sketch done by Raphael and the Mona Lisa before it was morphed dozens of times, including the perfect triangle still being present.

cotte french scientist mona lisa rendition next to raphael sketch with perfect triangle comparison
raphael sketch pascal cotte young woman with unicorn isleworth mona lisa louvre mona lisa side by side perfect triangle comparison
One can observe that the sitter exhibits the same general pose in all five artworks and the distance between the tops of their heads and the base of the pillars are extremely similar, beyond coincidence. This strongly indicates, considering all known facts, and above all else, that the starting point, or more specifically the underdrawing for each piece of art, was extremely similar, if not the exact same. Mr. Cotte also emphasizes the fact that the first layer found under the (Louvre) Mona Lisa includes eyebrows, like in the Raphael sketch, but the finished version of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa does not have eyebrows -- indicating that Leonardo must have removed them at some point during the sixteen years he was working on the portrait.[4]

It's also interesting to note that the hair on the right side of the subjects face (i.e. on the left side for the viewer) in the Raphael sketch, Cotte's edition, the Isleworth Mona Lisa and the Young Lady with Unicorn, falls more closely to the side of the head and neck than in the Louvre mona Lisa.
isleworth mona lisa raphael sketch louvre young woman with unicorn florence
mona lisa leonard da vinci head shot
In the Isleworth Mona Lisa, you can see that the artist was in the process of extending out the hair, as noticeable by the grey plaster left exposed on the canvas, to possibly include a veil, as seen in the Louvre version. This was likely the point at which the painting was halted for an unknown reason.  My personal, yet unfounded guess being, that Raphael, its creator, left for Rome before he could complete it.

isleworth mona lisa up close showing where hair was extended out with plaster based on raphael sketch picture


In the image above you can see that the yellow line marks the outermost border of the hair, while the red line marks the outermost border of the plaster being used to build out the transparent veil as seen in the Louvre Mona Lisa.

just mona lisa head up close showing veil photo louvre
Arrows point to the outline of the veil shown above.
mona lisa iselworth louvre hair comparison raphael sketch pascal cotte young woman with unicorn

Some will make the argument that because the Isleworth Mona Lisa was being shaped by the copyist to most accurately depict the exact features of the completed (Louvre) Mona Lisa, that this evidence fully supports that idea. Others will say that since Leonard had been working on both, of course he fully intended to carry out the same vision for both. But my rebuttal to both those arguments is as follows: the one and only legitimate reason for an artist to abandon a canvas only to recreate the same image from scratch, with the exact same proportions, would be to adjust the size or style of canvas, in order to better frame the picture, or in this case, possible to remove the columns; but since the (Louvre) Mona Lisa was painted on popular wood,[19] he could have easily trimmed the edges with a sharp saw or knife, instead of starting over completely and completely, wasting countless hours of sometimes excruciating labor.

Furthermore, it is known that there are no mistakes in art. One can easily and often does layer on paint to mask flaws and redo earlier compositions; and this was evidently and obviously a technique used by Leonardo da Vinci while painting the Louvre version, as confirmed by Pascal Cotte in his scientific research, because he noticed there were dozens of slightly varying forms that the Mona Lisa took on before settling on the one that we can observe today. So again, why would he abandon a canvas only to recreate what he had already painstakingly done? One might say because he delivered it to the wealthy silk merchant, Francesco, but do we reasonably believe that Leonardo da Vinci, the perfectionist, would have handed over an unfinished piece of art for the world to judge, expecting admiration and pay in return? Furthermore, Giorgio Vasari, the famous art historian of the day confirms that the painting was left unfinished after four years.

Irregardless of who first applied the underdrawing to the Isleworth Mona Lisa, it cannot be said conclusively that Leonardo da Vinci never touched the canvas, nor can it be said that he never painted a stroke. This statement, despite seeming to belie my case, should be noted nonetheless. For example, it is my own person, unfounded believe that Leonardo may have drawn the sketch that could have been used as a framework, or underdrawing for the hands, because of how exactly similar they appear in the Louvre version. They are so similar between paintings that it is hard to believe that different painters are responsible for each set. Although, as I will touch on later, the coloration of the Isleworth Mona Lisa's hands is more in alignment with Raphael's style than of Leonardo's -- also leading me to believe that Raphael could have copied exactly the shape of Leonardo da Vinci's hands, but then applied his own idiosyncratic color scheme on top of it.

isleworth mona lisa and louvre mona lisa hand comparison leonardo da vinci raphael

As mentioned previously in this text, there is a slight discrepancy between the top point of the triangle and the top line of the head that borders the skull in both the Isleworth and (Louvre) Mona Lisas (also noticeable in the Cotte edition).




isleworth mona lisa raphael comparison with louvre mona lisa by leonardo da vinci



We can see that if one were to lay the Raphael drawing on top of both the Isleworth Mona Lisa and the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, aligning them at the base of the pillars, the top of the head does not match up exactly between both versions. Although if you take a deeper look, you can see that the line rounding the top of the head in the Raphael sketch does in fact match up with a distinctive line in both the Isleworth and Louvre editions.



mona lisa louvre with raphael sketch over 50% opacity showing how it lines up underdrawing
mona lisa louvre with raphael sketch over 50% opacity showing how it lines up underdrawing photo.jpg
mona lisa louvre with raphael sketch over 50% opacity showing how it lines up underdrawing photo up close head
isleworth mona lisa and louvre mona lisa with perfect triangles on top 2.jpg
close up of groove in real mona lisa head



In the case of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, the line that matches with the tip of the triangle is that of a misplaced shadow, or contour line, that gives the appearance of an unnatural ridge at the top of Lisa's head -- an observation hardly ever mentioned, if at all. After much investigation, the mysterious bump at the top of her head that casts a shadow, is neither caused by a headband nor a natural ridge in the shape of her skull; which begs the question, why is that contrast line there at all? Based on the direction of the lighting, the darker portion of the head should be behind that contour line, not in front of it.


It serves no purpose and diverges from realism, which Leonardo was committing to in this particular pursuit, or really any pursuit of his. To the untrained eye, one might suggest that the shadow is definitely caused by some sort of veil or headband, but if that were the case, the shadow cast by her veil would appear more gradual and lighter all around the head from it's reflection of light. Below is an example of the type of contours, shadows and reflections caused by a veil.

queen of england veil

You can see in the above image of Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, that the transparent veil worn by her, casts an even, gradual and increasingly whiter reflection of light that contours smoothly towards the back of the skull. In the case of the Mona Lisa, there is an abrupt change in shadow that cannot be explained by the lighting direction, a ridge in the head, nor the reflection of light on the veil or fillet.


head of raphael mona lisa sketch


Furthermore, the fillet or veil present in the Raphael sketch, is apparently based on the Mona Lisa, yet the drawing does not depict this shadow, nor is there any sort of line that dissects the top of the head. What makes this phenomenon evermore curious is that in Cotte's edition of the early underdrawing of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, there too is a ridge present. If Raphael were to base his sketch off of Leonardo da Vinci's painting, why did he not include the ridge and shadow? Especially if he was able to notice the obscure base to the columns and their exact style. This indicates to me, that at a certain point in the production of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci elected to extend (or expand) the head upwards (or backwards) from the edge of the underdrawing, while failing to smooth out the shadows and contours created by the extension before his death. After all, he died with the painting in his possession, also indicating to me that the piece was never finished and he hardly expected for it to be found and heralded as a timeless and impeccable masterpiece. In my opinion, based on the circumstances, Leonardo da Vinci probably agonized over the painting and considered it to be imperfect and unsuitable for the public, otherwise he would have turned it into the man (or men) who commissioned the piece in the first place, and / or would have revealed it to the public himself to receive the due praise in his lifetime.


We can also see that a ridge and shadow do not exist on the Isleworth version, raising more suspicion as to why the painter would have not included it if it were Leonardo himself or a man intending to copy the exact strokes of Leonardo in hopes of passing it off as a real version. The painter had reached a point in the painting were it would have been an opportune and logical time to add the shadow, but in fact, he or she did not. Yet the painter was able to apply shadows to the hair on the right side of the sitter's head. 


mona lisa red arrow to head showing where da vinci extended head back and there is different shading


The veil that is depicted in the (Louvre) Mona Lisa is undoubtedly transparent and that being the case, under no circumstances would it cast a shadow of that magnitude, density, or pattern. This shadow cannot be explained with logic

Similarly, when we lay the Raphael sketch over the Isleworth Mona lisa, by aligning the base of the pillars, the top of the subject's head in the sketch, lines up with an even more obscure line than that of what we can see in the Louvre version. This line, faintly noticeable, yet certainty distinguishable nonetheless,  marks the border of an object that once existed in the portrait, but was eventually covered up by the color of the background. There are obvious signs of smudging that create a "halo" effect that surrounds the Isleworth Mona Lisa's head; these lines being in extremely close alignment with the shape of the head in the Raphael sketch.

red dots on sketch at 50 percent over isleworth mona lisa showing where head was larger before it was shrunk

red dots on sketch at 50 percent over isleworth mona lisa showing where head was larger before it was shrunk up close
isleworth mona lisa and louvre mona lisa with perfect triangles on top 3.jpg

smudge near isleworth mona lisa left head that shows he covered up outside

smudge near isleworth mona lisa left head that shows he covered up outside with sketch on top 50 percent opacity
isleworth mona lisa just the eyes showing smudge around head raphael copy

isleworth mona lisa up close with gold hue to show ring around head better where head used to be larger according to sketch copy

Red arrows point to a contrast line above.



It appears that at one point the head had been significantly larger according the underdrawing, before being reduced in size to better match the dimensions of the golden ratio, or merely to suit the artistic vision of the painter, subsequent to the underdrawing being applied. No matter the reason for adjusting the shape and size of the head, or if it were the head that was adjusted, it cannot be said that a smudge "halo" does not exists around the head of the Isleworth Mona Lisa.


Martin Kemp, a preeminent art historian and professor at Oxford, upholds the following claim that the Isleworth Mona Lisa is "a perfectly honest, well-made early copy [neither by Leonardo da Vinci, nor Raffaello Sanzio]." Kemp, also a Leonardo da Vinci expert says that, "Pictures were copied [because] you couldn't go to the Internet and order a reproduction. So if you wanted something like that ['the Mona Lisa'] and you couldn't get a hold of a Leonardo, you would order a copy."  But according to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and as reported by Reuters, Time Magazine and the Huffington post, "the canvas of the Isleworth painting dates to somewhere between 1410 and 1455, refuting claims that it was a late 16th century copy." Keep in mind that the Louvre version was not found until after Leonardo's death in 1519. Additionally, The Mona Lisa Foundation, a Swiss non-profit, conducted 35 years of historical research and scientific tests, by examining documents and extensive test results, confirming that the Isleworth Mona lisa was started between 1503 and 1506. All these facts put forth by prominent research institutions and prestigious journals seem to belie Kemp's theory.


Revealing The Math Behind The Portraits


Now that I've touched on the historical context of the mystery, as well as various contradictory arguments and other peculiarly odd and similar features between both paintings, I will now put forth the most compelling and decisive piece of evidence thus far (as highlighted in the very beginning of this text) that directly and definitely supports my claim that Raphael is responsible for painting the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa.  The "release" dates of the following paintings I will compare, is instrumental and absolutely imperative in understanding Raphael's contribution to the creation of the Iselworth Mona Lisa. I came to this realization when comparing the proportions between the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa, with that of the 'Young Lady with Unicorn,' which was also painted by Raphael in 1505 or 1506.  By layering one image over the other, and aligning the distance and size of each subject's pupils, we can see that the faces are virtually identical to an extremely calculated degree, heavily implying that this is no coincidence. Pay very close attention to the slow motion animation shown below as one face morphs seemlessly into the other.


By making the eyes proportional to one another, so to does the rest of the face become.  We can see that their face's are so similar to a degree that leaves no doubt in my mind that the creator of one had be the creator of the other. Furthermore, I was unable to locate or identify any other Leonardo da Vinci drawing or painting that matched these dimensions exactly.


Only the shadows and a slight variation in the curl of the mouth and the width of the nostrils appear to diverge from one another.


Now, you may be saying to yourself, well, this is because Raphael is known for having copied Leonardo da Vinci and therefore it makes perfect sense that he would apply the dimensions of faces that Leonardo drew to those of his own portraits. Well, for starters, if we align the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, or any other Leonardo painting or drawing for that matter, with the Isleworth Mona Lisa in the same manner as outlined above, we can see that it just doesn't match up.


louvre mona lisa on top of isleworth mona lisa comparison raphael leonard da vinci

For example, after aligning the eyes, one can see that the size of the head depicted in the Louvre version (undoubtedly created by Leonardo da Vinci), is significantly larger than the head of the Isleworth Mona Lisa. Moreover, what is interesting about the above image, and possibly totally coincidental and unrelated, is that the top of the head of the Isleworth Mona Lisa perfectly aligns with that misplaced contour line that I spoke of earlier, when the eyes are aligned.


I searched far and wide for a sketch or painting done by Leonardo da Vinci to see if I could find an exact match as I did with the 'Young Lady with Unicron,' but was hard pressed to find anything that was remotely close in resemblance. But what I did find, was another one of Raphael's drawings, which appears to be radically different in every respect from the Islewoth Mona lisa at first glance, but when aligned at the eyes, it too is a perfect geometric match. Carefully observe the animations below, paying close attention to the prominent lines on each face, and how they seamlessly morph into one another.




Both the face of the Young Woman with the Unicorn and the Isleworth Mona Lisa match exactly with the facial geometry of the 'Head of a Youth,' a sketch by Raphael drawn in 1500, four years before traveling to Florence to meet the great Leonard de Vinci.[1] To the untrained eye, or to any eye for that matter, all three subjects appear to be radically different in every respect, but when they are compared based on their proportions, they are exactly the same.


nicola cassano isleworth mona lisa young woman with unicorn raphael painting drawing copy


It has become clear to me during my research that Raphael would use sketches in his portfolio as templates for figures in a wide range of his paintings that he would construct, by simply adjusting the scale of the proportions, in order to achieve a "typical" and "ideal" human face.
raphael sketches over mona lisa isleworth showing similarities same picture photo
The above image is a still-frame depiction of all three artworks  layered on top of one another at 50% opacity, where one can see that there is hardly a double line on the face, if at all, whereas you can see overlapping and conflicting lines of objects everywhere else in the frame pertaining to the rest of the body and the background.
raphael young woman with the unicorn over mona lisa isleworth showing similarities same 50% opacity
The image above is of the painting, the 'Young Lady with Unicorn' layered over top the Isleworth Mona lisa at a semi-transparent, 50% opacity, and again, you can see that especially within the frame of the face, it appears to be a single, unified, and beautiful portrait of a woman.
raphael did the mona lisa isleworth and sketch underdrawing for louvre monalisa.jpg 
Above we can see just the eyes of the layered paintings at 50% opacity, truly appearing to be a single portrait. raphael sketch template for paintings raphael sketch template for paintings 2

And again, in the above images, we can observe another example of Raphael using a seemingly unrelated sketch as a template for one of his great paintings, 'Saint Catherine of Alexandria,' painted in 1507


To be supremely clear and to further reiterate the most important piece of evidence that is ultimately the cornerstone to my entire assertion: because 'The Head of the Youth' was drawn in 1500, and predates Raphael's time spent in Florence with Leondardo,[1] there is virtually no possible way that Raphael could have based this sketch on one of Leonardo's painting or drawings if he had never personally come into contact with one before 1504,[10] And moreover, to my knowledge, there is not a single Leonardo da Vinci painting that is available to the public that Raphael could have received a copy of that matches the dimensions of the Isleworth Mona Lisa's face exactly.  Therefore, we can now authoritatively and undoubtedly attribute Raphael as the man responsible for painting the face of the Isleworth Mona Lisa.


And as a result of this discovery, we can now also logically surmise that the painting was likely created between 1504 and 1507, and was most likely based on Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant that so many art historians have pointed to over the years as the patron of the commission.

The Identical Underdrawing Theory

I shall now put forth even more evidence as to the validity of the 'Identical Underdrawing Theory,' as a means for reinforcing the notion that the painting was undoubtedly done during the start of the 16th century in the studio of Leonardo da Vinci, and was likely of Lisa del Giocondo.


If you inspect the canvases of both versions of the Mona Lisa, you'll notice that there is a discreet line that runs parallel with the top border of the canvas and across the entirety of the frame. 

isleworth mona lisa nondescript line showing underdrawing used by raphael
Isleworth Mona Lisa above
louvre mona lisa nondescript line showing underdrawing used by raphael
(Louvre) Mona Lisa above

Now if you layer the Raphael sketch on top of each, matching up the base of the columns, and rendering the sketch at 50% opacity, you'll notice that where the top of the sketch falls is of a consistent distance away from this discreet and nearly unidentifiable line on both the Isleworth and Louvre Mona Lisas.

side by side mona lisas showing where there was some sort of tap up top that left a line on both when it was traced sketches are overlayed at 50 percent showing corners match
Side by side comparison: showing proof that the same underdrawing could have been used.
iselworth mona lisa up close showing where there was some sort of tape up top that left a line on when it was traced sketches are overlayed at 50 percent showing corners match
Isleworth Mona lisa above
lourve real mona lisa up close showing where there was some sort of tape up top that left a line on when it was traced sketches are overlayed at 50 percent showing corners match
Louvre Mona Lisa above
* Please note that the two images immediately above are proportional, despite not appearing so, and are simply cropped versions of the side by side comparison featured above both of them, where we can clearly see they are the same size.


This implies that the inconspicuous lines faintly visible at the top of each painting could have (and were likely) created by the edge of the same underdrawing paper when it was copied over to a more durable canvas. Furthermore, it is interesting to note, yet possibly totally unrelated to any one of my claims, that the distance between the outer most edge of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa canvas and the hypothetical edge of the same canvas had the column been included and built out proportionally to how it exists in the Isleworth version, is of a consistent length to the distance between the top of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa and the top of the Isleworth Mona Lisa if you were to line them up based on the proportional relationship of the sitters and the placement of their features symmetrically and vertically aligned across the frame. This distance also happens to match the distance between the top of the Isleworth Mona Lisa canvas and the discreet line that intersects the canvas for no apparent reason.  To help illustrate this confusing, nearly abstract point, I have included a diagram below in which the squares are exactly the same size. I feel that it is important to include this bit of information, though seemingly irrelevant, in case that one day it sparks an idea in someone that leads to a new discovery.

isleworth louvre mona lisa compared canvas size to underdrawing raphael leonardo da vinci





Raphael's portraits are known for their kind (and sometimes sad) eyes, rosy cheeks and indifferent facial expressions, while Leonardo da Vinci's subjects always seem to have enigmatic, or even suspicious looking eyes, with an ambiguous, yet definitive motivation behind them; and a dull and lackluster coloration in the subjects face and cheeks. These styles are manifest in both painter's versions of their Mona Lisa's.  There is an obvious age difference between the two sitters depicted in each version despite the two paintings having so many visual similarities, and to an untrained eye, may appear to be exactly the same person.

As briefly mentioned early in the text, this apparent age discrepancy in not only present in the subjects of the paintings, but also in the painter's themselves, showing a direct correlation between the age of the subject and the age of the painter.  For approximately sixteen years after it's commission, subsequent to leaving Florence, it is my belief that Leonardo da Vinci likely spent hundreds of hours, if not thousands, tirelessly working on this portrait "by memory" of his subject, Lisa. While continuing to work on the portrait within the safe confines of his geometric formulas, namely the golden ratio, his interpretation of her beauty slowly morphed from an accurate portrayal of herself, to more of a self-portrait of himself.  At a certain point, the Mona Lisa became less about Lisa and more about Leonardo. Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage, a leading association of scientists and art historians, as well as other prominent institutions and individuals, have for years surmised that the Mona Lisa was a self-portrait of Leonardo and sought to use CSI-style technology to rebuild his face. Meaning, this notion has been thrown around and speculated on for some time now.
mona lisa a self portrait of leonardo da vinci
*Please note that the man depicted in the drawing on the right side in the image above has not been proven to be Leonardo da Vinci; but has been widely accepted as such.

Preliminary color and shadow comparisons were important in first linking the Isleworth Mona Lisa with Raphael. One can notice that the Isleworth Mona Lisa has a lighter and more rounded forehead -- which is more characteristic of Raphael than it is of Leonardo da Vinci -- whereas the Louvre version has a more angular and shadowy forehead (arguable a common feature in Leonardo's paintings).

isleworth mona lisa next to louvre mona lisa side by saide showing one more atrractive than showing shadows on forehead
Leonardo da Vinci's paintings also seem to regularly exude a consistent warm yellow and brownish hue that dominated the coloration of his paintings; whereas Raphael used lighter, cooler colors in his paintings that expressed greater shades of white and blue.


Several of Raphael's paintings below (displaying cool colors, kind eyes and shadowless foreheads):
raphael paintings kind eyes white wash round foreheads


Several of Leonardo da Vinci's Paintings below (displaying warmer, yet seemingly duller colors, with enigmatic eyes, and shadow-ridden foreheads):
leonard da vinci eyes style and forehead color and shading versus raphael



In order to transform my empirical evidence into concrete math, I will associate numbers to my observations.

By extracting color samples from three of Leonardo's portraits at the center of each sitter's forehead (where the glare always appears to be most prominent due to it's curvature), and then comparing those with three color samples obtained from three of Raphael's portraits (also chosen at random and extracted from the same region of the forehead), we can compare the Red to Blue color ratios based on the RGB model.

Once we understand a general trend through comparative analysis between the two men's styles, we can then see how the 'Isleworth Mona Lisa' and the (Louvre) Mona Lisa compare from a mathematical color perspective when extracting the same sample from the center of each sitter's forehead. If my initial observation is correct, then a direct correlation should exist between all of Leonardo's paintings and the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, compared with that of three of Raphael's paintings and the Isleworth Mona Lisa.

Leonardo Paintings (RGB color ratio: red/blue):

Ginevra de' Benci: 1.424

Cecilia Gallerani: 1.789

St. John the Baptist: 1.992
(Louvre) Mona Lisa: 4.084
(Average): 3.777

Raphael Paintings (RGB color ratio: red/blue):

Young Lady with Unicorn: 1.148

Self-portrait: 1.386

The Small Cowper Madonna: 1.209
(Average): 1.247
Isleworth Mona Lisa: 1.517
As you can see, red is disproportionately more dominant than blue in all of Leonardo's paintings as compared with Raphael's; and moreover, the (Louvre) Mona Lisa is not only extremely dominant in red additives over all of his other paintings, but also over all of Raphael's and the Isleworth Mona Lisa. We can clearly see a trend present that helps support my claim.


Leonardo: the Mathematician, Scientist, and inventor

As reported by the BBC, one of the surprising things about Leonardo da Vinci is that despite his colossal reputation as an artist, he didn’t actually produce many paintings. Over the course of a long career lasting almost half a century, he began probably no more than 20 pictures. Only 15 have survived that scholars agree are wholly his. 
As you may recall, between 1483 and 1503, Leonardo da Vinci filled his private and mostly unpublished notebooks disproportionately with war machines, parachutes, giant crossbow, scythed chariots, tanks, armored vessels, ideal city landscapes, flying machines, double decker bridges, statues of horses, and machine guns.[22] He only did a handful of paintings during this timeframe, one of which was 'The Last Supper,' completed in 1498.  This again reinforces the fact that art was primarily a byproduct of his fascination in math and science, and came secondary to his scientific endeavors; further providing insight into why Rapahel may have been more focused on painting, and thus been able to create more paintings, with arguable more attractive and relatable personal qualities in his characters.

Another curious fact is that a vast majority of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings were done on wood panels, as was the (Lourve) Mona Lisa, while the Isleworth Mona Lisa was done on canvas. The few paintings that Leonardo did on canvas were first painted on wood and then transferred to canvas, like 'The Madonna of the Yarnwinde,' 'Bacchus' and the 'Virgin of the Rocks Cheramy.'  The Isleworth Mona Lisa was done on canvas, and studies undoubtedly show that it is an original work because of it's underdrawing as proven by spectral analysis performed by Cotte and his team. This heavily gives credence to the notion that Raphael started the painting himself, instead of adding on to what Leonardo had already started. Conversely, if Leonardo da Vinci had started on the Isleworth Mona Lisa himself, then this would have been one of the only times, if not the only time, in which he started a painting on stretched canvas and then switched to wood.  Which raises an interesting point, maybe he did in fact start on canvas and realized he didn't like it and then switched to popular wood, leaving Raphael to toy around with the face on the abandoned canvas.

As stated several times throughout the thesis, to this day, it has become widely accepted that Raphael made his sketch based off of memory of the Mona Lisa that he saw Leonardo working on. The reason I believe this to be impossible is because the sketch done by Raphael includes columns, but the Mona Lisa featured in the Lourve does not include fully formed and conspicuous columns. But more importantly, even in Cotte's edition of the underdrawing of the (Louvre) Mona Lisa, there are not fully formed columns present; meaning that if the Louvre Mona Lisa is the only Mona Lisa Leonardo ever worked on, there is an extremely improbably chance that Raphael would have noticed the base of the columns in the first place and then been able to remembered the exact style of the three ridge column base. And even more so, took the liberty to build them out in his own sketch interpretation and then apply those same columns confidently to his other paintings, such as the "Young Lady with Unicorn," in the exact same style.
column comparison raphael da vinci isleworth louvre mona lisa sketch drawing pascal cotte
It is much more plausible that there was a single underdrawing created that was used on both canvases, and because of the size variation between the two canvases,  with the Louvre version being slightly smaller, yet still proportional, the columns simply did not fit on the Louvre version canvas. 


Lastly, I find it rather intriguing that the 'Small Cowper Madonna' painted by Raphael in 1505 (also coinciding during Raphael's time spent in Florence with Leonardo da Vinci), features a set of three trees on the subjects right side (from the sitter's perspective), that are reflected in a body of water immediately beneath them. But what's interesting, is that if you look closely at the Isleworth Mona Lisa, the three trees that are being reflected in the "body of water," don't actually have a body of water beneath them. Instead, they appear to be floating in midair above a mountain range.
isleworth mona lisa raphael Small Cowper Madonna comparison da vinci
raphael da vinci comparison

It is clear that Raphael learned a great deal in Florence while working under Leonardo, because immediately after, he traveled to Rome where he would become a leading painter of the Italian Renaissance under his patron, Pope Julius II at the Vatican, and eventually solidify his name in the history books as a "Mortal God."  Almost 500 years after Mona Lisa was first found in Leonardo da Vinci's private collection subsequent to his death, we still marvel at the mystery of his sitter, seemingly on a subconscious level. The smartest people in the world to this day cannot truly explain why we continue to uphold it as the greatest portrait of all time. There exists a supernatural aura behind the Mona Lisa that thrusts itself into the forefront of pop culture year after year... for five hundred years.  Despite working on the Mona Lisa until death, it was not officially Leonardo da Vinci's last painting on record. 'St. john the Baptist' was his final portrait completed between 1513 and 1516.

st john the baptist by leonardo da vinci 1516.jpg

This painting, I should mention, has the same enigmatic look as the Mona Lisa, with the potential to stir up the same mystery and controversy, but yet, it is the Mona Lisa that takes the cake in not only his portfolio of artwork, but from the world's portfolio of artwork, that includes a seemingly infinite number of dazzling masterpieces that have all competed with the Mona Lisa for our attention and admiration for hundreds of years.


Despite it's undisputed position as a global and timeless masterpiece, the general public doesn't much care or even know that there is potentially an "earlier version" of the Mona Lisa.  It has become increasingly more apparent to me that despite Leonardo da Vinci's obvious mastery of geometry and portrait drawing, it is not his skill or even the inherent value of the painting that we are drawn to time and time again; it has to be something deeper, more durable, more timeless. After all, art as a symbol of value is, for the most part, inherently subjective and arbitrary. In my opinion, there are much greater works of art by Michelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens than that of the Mona Lisa. But, again, art is subjective and ultimately a personal preference. So, this takes us back to square one, where we began our journey nearly half a millennium ago; the question still remains: how is it that the Mona Lisa has survived all these years as the most recognizable painting of all time? 

The reason, I believe, is not rooted in the technical acumen of it's creator, nor is it nestled in his ability to depict three-dimensional portraits on two-dimensional surfaces. Instead, I think it has something to do with the amount of time he worked on the piece and the reason why he spent so much time obsessing over it (not to devalue the math and artistry behind it). Despite still not truly knowing the reason, I believe it is something we can subconsciously pickup and sense just by looking at it. We feel that there is a dramatic story behind it, if not a traumatic one.  We sense something, but we can't exactly place a finger on it.  Not only had Leonardo da Vinci spent more time on the Mona Lisa than on any other painting of his (in my opinion based on how long he held onto it for no apparent reason), but it is arguably so that he spent more time on the Mona Lisa than any other painter has ever spent on any other painting; not to mention it's only 30 inches by 21 inches in size. To put it in perspective, it only took Michelangelo four years to finish the Sistine Chapel.

sistine chapel


Why we marvel at the Mona Lisa, I think, to a certain degree, is because we sense an underlying and subconscious wave of emotions that were infused into it during it's creation and were applied vehemently for nearly two decades, in an obsessive compulsive manner.  Something about this painting troubled Leonardo da Vinci so much so that he would never turn it in to it's commissioner and hold onto it until his death, possibly expecting it to never be seen or taken seriously by the public. It was one of several pieces found on him at the time of his death.[20] Was it because he had seen Raphael's version and for the first time in his life felt challenged to the point of deep insecurity and insanity? So much so that he refused to turn in into Francesco in fear of being compared, and ultimately judged as inferior to Raphael?


We may never know Leonardo da Vinci's intentions, nor the meaning it holds, but most importantly, the ultimate reason I believe that we hold the painting so sacred and dear to our hearts is because above all else it serves as a timeless symbol of one of the most important periods in the development of human civilization: that is, the renaissance.  It doesn't much matter who the woman is or when it was painted and for whom; what matters is that it reminds us of the ultimate renaissance man during arguably one of the most pivotal times in the history of mankind (for it's mass dissemination of reason and logic), and hence is more of a symbol of humanity than merely a work of art.  When we look at the Mona Lisa, we ask "who, what, when, why and where?" These simple questions sit at the cornerstone of every question, and therefore serve as a basis of reason and logic. So when we glare into the enigmatic eyes of the Mona Lisa, at that very moment, we are propelled forward in the evolution of human civilization, nudging us ever so slightly toward moral, scientific and artistic advancement and achievement.

The questions we inquire about when marveling at the Mona Lisa are the same questions we ask ourselves everyday. Who are we? What are we doing here? Where did we come from? Why are we here? In a sense, the Mona Lisa is a mirror into our consciousness and serves as an all encompassing symbol and model of logic. These overarching question about humanity and existence that we continue to ask ourselves each and every day as individuals, as a species and a conjoined civilization, are what cause us to exercise logical, moral, scientific, and artistic pursuits. We may never know the true story behind the Mona Lisa, but the purpose of it's existence has already been served.

2) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mona-Lisa-painting
3) http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mona-lisa-portrait-lisa-gherardini-wife-francesco-del-giocondo
4) http://www.forbes.com/sites/clairevoon/2015/01/12/alleged-early-mona-lisa-on-display-for-the-first-time/#2c2749a29d17
5) http://monalisa.org/2012/09/08/the-travel-journal-of-antonio-de-beatis/
6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGFUBC0tu9A
7) https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/leonardo-da-vinci/a/leonardo-last-supper
8) http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/who-came-first-_experts-query-new-proof-for--early--mona-lisa/34999346
9) http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150216-a-second-mona-lisa
10) http://www.biography.com/people/raphael-41051
11) http://monalisa.org/2012/09/10/the-raphael-sketch/
13) http://www.essentialvermeer.com/technique/technique_drawing.html#.V_f3gFvwM4A
14) https://100swallows.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/michelangelo-and-raphael/
15) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGS-DzSJ5lQ
16) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMDJhhbtqJQ
17) http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-35031997
18) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3668700/Solved-Why-Mona-Lisa-doesnt-have-eyebrows.html
19) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mona-Lisa-painting
20) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5x3MaZ6fqQ
21) https://legionofhonor.famsf.org/exhibitions/sublime-beauty-raphaels-portrait-lady-unicorn
22) https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2015/10/28/da-vincis-military-thoughts/
© 2016 Taylor Kinahan. All Rights Reserved.

isleworth mona lisa mixed with young lady with unicorn raphael and leonardo da vinci


Taylor Kinahan
Taylor Kinahan


3 Responses

Dan Luxton
Dan Luxton

March 04, 2017

I have just watched Andrew Graham Dixon’s Secrets of the Mona Lisa…

There are a few loose ends – how does the Isleworth Mona Lisa fit into the trajectory?
Is it a copy of the first “younger” painting discovered under the Louvre surface image (turned a further 15 degrees out)?

The Isleworth Mona Lisa is clearly a youthful Mona Lisa as is the Raphael sketch of Leonardo’s painting.
The Louvre Mona Lisa is a mature woman – perhaps 15 years older, carrying more weight in her features.

I was surprised that Andrew didn’t discuss this quite reasonable conclusion, that Leonardo painted the older Mona Lisa over the top of the younger Mona Lisa at a portrait sitting years after the first, perhaps after the death of her husband?
Would that not explain the slight difference in the angle of the face.
Would that not suggest that the husband did hold the portrait until his death, when for some reason, Leonardo was given or took the opportunity to capture an older likeness.
Would that not explain the aging and weight gain.

Is the Mona Lisa in fact Leonardo’s homage to mortality? The beauty of youth hidden within the carapace of age.
Akin to Shakespeare’s sonnet “Who will believe my verse in time to come…”, has Leonardo used layers of paint to capture the frailty of beauty and human mortality?

This to me is a far more likely explanation than Leonardo painted the image of a completely different woman, the lover of Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici over the top of the Mona Lisa.
That is surely nonsense. Which is why I was surprised Andrew didn’t arrive at the same conclusion as me (it is of course possible that Guiliano wanted to obliterate the likeness of a past beauty and replace it with a contemporary one – perhaps Guiliano made Leonardo an offer he couldn’t refuse…).

People living in early 1500 would still be living with fear of The Black Death that killed 60% of Florentine citizens 150 years earlier in the mid 1300s and was still a killer – regional outbreaks of plague persisted for centuries.
To capture the idea of mortality in paint – that would have appealed to an incisive mind, as Galileo’s mind surely was.


February 22, 2017

I gain to find somewhere a poster of all phases of the Mona Lisa until Leonardo finally finished the Mona Lisa. Do you know where I can buy one?
Thanks a lot

Pearl Feytheir
Pearl Feytheir

February 08, 2017

cool leonardo da vinci is awesome but… how long did it take you to do all of that research???I would have died

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