Is This An Early 'Mona Lisa'? : The Two-Way A Swiss foundation claims to have evidence of an earlier version. Skeptics say they need more proof.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Today in Geneva, Switzerland, a painting was unveiled - a painting of a familiar face. A group called the Mona Lisa Foundation, claims Da Vinci made this portrait years before the famous work that now hangs in the Louvre. NPR's Elizabeth Blair tells us more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In the digital image of this so-called "Earlier Mona Lisa," she looks like the same person. Her hands are folded the same way; her hair and dress are similar; and she's got that slight smile.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: The face has been painted by Leonardo. No doubt of this at all. It is most beautiful.

BLAIR: That narration is from a video made by the Mona Lisa Foundation, a Zurich-based company formed by art auctioneer David Feldman and Markus Frey, a lawyer and investment banker. The foundation was created to prove there were two Mona Lisas. Frey spoke at today's unveiling.

MARKUS FREY: The ultimate goal of our endeavors: to give that stunning, earlier version the place in art history which it deserves.

BLAIR: The painting is named the "Isleworth Mona Lisa," after the English town where art dealer and collector Hugh Blaker had a studio. The story goes that he bought the painting in 1913, and Henry Pulitzer bought it in the 1960s. When he died, he gave the painting to a business partner, who entrusted it to David Feldman. This year, the Mona Lisa Foundation released a 300-page book and this video, laying out its evidence that this is the first version of Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Over the next 12 years, the painting underwent every test, from gamma spectroscopy to infrared reflectography and multispectral digitization.

BLAIR: But there is one important skeptic: Martin Kemp, professor of history of art, at Oxford University. He says - among other things - the foundation's scientific tests don't reveal anything that resembles Da Vinci's technique.

MARTIN KEMP: When Leonardo painted pictures, as we know from the scientific examination of them, he was never happy. He was always pushing contours around, altering bits, painting out bits, sort of adding other bits; and these technical examinations are boring and inert. And that's the last thing you expect of Leonardo technical examinations.

BLAIR: But Kemp does believe Da Vinci might have started this painting.

KEMP: There's good evidence that Leonardo began a painting in 1503, never really quite finished it; certainly, never handed it over to the patrons. It ended up in the hands of a pupil. It then passed from the pupil into the French royal collection, and that's the picture we've got.

BLAIR: Either way, the Mona Lisa Foundation is making a big push to prove this is Da Vinci's earlier "Mona Lisa." It's not exactly clear who owns this painting. But if they're right, Kemp says the sums of money it could fetch, are awesome.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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