'A' for effort

September 27 2012

Image of 'A' for effort

Picture: Mona Lisa Foundation

Sorry folks, move along, nothing to see here. It surely is, as Martin Kemp says, a copy. The Mona Lisa Foundation has done a great PR job, with judicious leaking, a nice website, a video, and all sorts of technical sounding tests. But the evidence behind the claim starts off with some interesting facts, in terms of documentary material, and then becomes more and more obscure until, by the end, we're left with nonsense about age regression.

None of this would satisfy, say, the National Gallery in London, and nor should it satisfy you. Was the simplistic face, above, painted by the greatest artist that ever lived? No. It's just an early copy. If they cleaned the picture, its deficiencies would become painfully obvious. As it is, they are hidden by a pleasingly antique-looking layer of dirt and old varnish, the sort of obfuscatory layer that allows for optimistic conjectures.

You can zoom in here on various details of the picture (or, top tip, click 'save image' on the detail and download a high-res version of the whole thing). Then compare it here with the real thing, of which below is a detail [Picture: Louvre]. 

Update - a reader writes:

For once, you got it all wrong!  Surely, it's the Mona Lisa… after a visit to Harley Street!  Every little cosmetic surgery helps…

And another:

Alas, its not just a copy: its a pretty bad copy at that.

The story has done well in the press so far. But for how much longer will the media keep reporting arts discovery stories, if the 'discoveries' are so often nonsense? Will it end up like the boy who cried wolf? Will there be a time when genuine arts discoveries are greeted with a shrug of the shoulders, and ignored?

Update II - another reader asks about the mystery early provenance:

Seeing as the Mona Lisa Foundation is now supposedly revealing all about its Mona Lisa to the world, it is surprising it does not tell us who Hugh Blaker bought the picture from in 1913 - the person who inherited it (or whatever) from the aristocratic 18th century Grand Tourist of the Somerset manor house? Why should that have to be a secret? Issues of confidentiality and delicacy perhaps? Or perhaps Hugh Blaker forgot to make a note of the name of the Somerset nobleman? Or have I missed something?

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