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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

LEONARDO’S LOVER PROBABLY PAINTED THE PRADO;S MONA LISA


Leonardo’s lover probably painted the Prado’s Mona Lisa
Identifying the assistant who worked on the copy in Madrid could lead the Louvre to reassess the original’s early provenance

By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 01 March 2012

The Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa was most likely painted by Salaì, Leonardo’s assistant and reputed lover. Salaì, whose nickname means “little Satan”, joined his master’s studio in 1490, at the age of ten, and worked with him until Leonardo’s death.

Giorgio Vasari, the mid-16th century art historian, described Salaì as “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted”. It has long been believed that Salaì and Leonardo were lovers, although there is no firm evidence of a sexual relationship.

The identity of the studio assistant who painted the Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa is still being investigated, but Salaì (whose real name was Gian Giacomo Caprotti) has now emerged as the top contender. On 21 February, the newly-restored copy of the Mona Lisa, done side-by-side with Leonardo’s original in his studio, was unveiled in Madrid. The Louvre dates the original to about 1503-06.

If it is confirmed that Salaì was the copyist of the Mona Lisa, then it is unlikely that he once owned the original, as has previously been assumed. The Louvre would then have to reassess the early history of the world’s most famous painting.

In attempting to identify the copyist, curators at the Prado began by eliminating pupils and associates such as Boltraffio, Marco d’Oggiono and Ambrogio de Predis—since they each have their own individual styles. They also eliminated two Spanish followers of Leonardo, Fernando Yáñez and Fernando de Llanos, whose work is distinctively Valencian.

Miguel Falomir, the head of Italian paintings at the Prado, now believes that the copy of the Mona Lisa “can be stylistically located in a Milanese context close to Salaì or possibly Francesco Melzi”. Melzi was an assistant who joined Leonardo’s studio in around 1507, but the Prado’s copy may well have been started earlier. Of the two, Salaì now seems the most likely.

Bruno Mottin, the head curator at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (based at the Louvre), concurs. He believes that Melzi is less likely, and although Salaì’s style remains obscure, he is the most likely candidate.


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