For the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s the Domaine de Chantilly
, this great artist’s genius is being celebrated with a new exhibition dedicated to one of the highlights of the Musée Condé’s collection, the little known and enigmatic Nude Mona Lisa.
The Musée Condé at Chantilly owns a large cartoon (a full size drawing that has been pricked to transfer a composition onto a panel) showing a nude half-length woman in a pose that is largely the same as the world famous Mona Lisa at the Louvre: known as the Nude Mona Lisa, this masterpiece raises endless questions.
Thanks to highly ambitious international loans, the exhibition which runs from 1 June to 6 October 2019 attempts to solve the mystery of this true icon.
The Birth of a Genre: around Simonetta Vespucci
The composition of the Nude Mona Lisa “invented” by Leonardo da Vinci corresponds to ideas that had been evolving in Florentine Neo-Platonic circles of the 1480s that Leonardo had known. Evidence of these ideas is visible in portraits of Simonetta Vespucci, the fatal beauty who died prematurely and was the object of Giuliano de’Medici’s platonic love. Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo made paintings of her nude and created a fully-fledged theme in art that contains multiple meanings and is at the junction of several genres. For these artists and simultaneously those in Venice (especially the famous Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto now in Frankfurt’s Städel Museum), the portrait of a woman nude became the archetype of universal and ideal beauty.
Leonardo da Vinci and the Nude Mona Lisa
The core of the exhibition focuses on the prestigious cartoon from Chantilly known as the Nude Mona Lisa, acquired for a very high price by the Duke of Aumale in 1862. Based on the general composition of the Louvre’s Mona Lisa with which it shares almost the same dimensions, this masterpiece on paper made with charcoal and lead white highlights is the support for multiple meanings worthy of the fertile mind of Leonardo da Vinci: without being the reflection of a precise model, this erotic Mona Lisa probably represented for him the idea of an ideal beauty, in reference to antiquity.
Laboratory analyses have shown that the Chantilly cartoon served as the stencil for paintings created in Leonardo’s workshop. For the first time ever, these will be brought together at Chantilly. Many pupils and followers of Leonardo repeated this composition, were inspired by it, or transformed its meaning. This will be a unique opportunity to see several replicas together, to compare them each other and to the Chantilly cartoon.
Who created the Chantilly Nude Mona Lisa? The results of scientific analysis finally revealed !
Laboratory analyses were performed in Paris at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF) in the Autumn of 2017. This included completely new studies of the technique used to create this work and the history of the various alterations to it, thanks to a range of scientific images (photographs in direct light, infrared, ultraviolet fluorescence, infared reflectography), a series of non-invasive analyses and an attentive study of the surface under a binocular magnifying glass.
Like a detective investigation, the visitor be immersed and learn about the results of the scientific analyses and find out who could have made this famous drawing.
The analyses carried out on this masterpiece from Chantilly today confirm that it was created in Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop and very likely by the artist himself!
The Nude Mona Lisa in Renaissance France
The Nude Mona Lisa was known in France from an early date either through an original or a copy. After Joos van Cleve, François Clouet (son of François I’s portrait painter) was inspired by it for his Lady in Her Bath (Washington, National Gallery of Art) a composition destined for a glorious future, placed at the boundaries of the portrait of a woman who has just given birth, an allegory of fertility or of love and genre painting.
The motif evolved in various ways in France during the second half of the 16th century, through the production of large numbers of paintings that used to be attributed to the Second School of Fontainebleau. Ladies in their bath or at their toilet, Women between two Ages, portraits of the mistresses of Henri IV (including the famous painting from the Louvre, Ladies in their bath, also known as Gabrielle d’Estrées and her Sister the Duchess of Villars) are in a way the daughters of the Nude Mona Lisa. The naked women who have become nude ladies, bathing in a courtly universe, are then associated with the iconography of spring, fertility, fruitfulness. Connected to the theme of the bath and maternity, even gallantry, they are the heroines of an eminently French genre of painting which flourished until the first half of the 17th century and prefigures genre scenes.
Through its examination of an emblematic and forgotten work by Leonardo da Vinci, the exhibition at Chantilly will pay tribute to one of the most fascinating creations by Leonardo da Vinci, at the same time, offering a veritable art historical investigation, between France and Italy of the Renaissance.