The real Mona Lisa?
Prado museum finds
Leonardo da Vinci pupil's take
Prado says pupil painted remarkable portrait alongside Leonardo da Vinci, affording insight into how Mona Lisa actually looked
A contemporaneous copy of the world's most famous painting has been discovered by conservators at the Prado in Madrid, allowing us to see the Mona Lisa as she would probably have looked at the time.
In art historical terms, the discovery is remarkable. The Prado painting had long been thought to be one of dozens of surviving replicas of Leonardo's masterpiece, made in the 16th and 17th centuries.
But, The Art Newspaper reports, recent conservation reveals that the work was in fact painted by a pupil working alongside Leonardo.
The original painting hangs behind glass and with enormous security at the Louvre, a gallery it is unlikely to ever leave. There is also no prospect of it being cleaned in the forseeable future, meaning crowds view a work that, although undeniably beautiful, has several layers of old, cracked varnish.
This newly discovered work – found under black overpaint – allows the viewer to see a much fresher version of the captivating young woman, generally acknowledged to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo.
The Prado said the restoration had been carried out over the past few months in preparation for an exhibition at the Louvre in March.
Details of the discovery were revealed at a recent Leonardo symposium of experts at the National Gallery in London, which is how the story emerged, a spokeswoman said, adding that there was more conservation work needed and that the painting would not be revealed in its full glory for around three weeks.
"There is much more to see. The process of conservation is still going on, we have not finished."