Art Around the World

Mona Lisa Goes Topless

By Tom Gross, March 20, 2001

A nude version of the Mona Lisa is being shown in Milan. The naked portrait titled the Monna Vanna, and complete with the model’s famous enigmatic smile was painted in 1515 by Leonardo da Vinci’s pupil, Andrea Salai. Art historians say that it was not only inspired by Leonardo, but is almost certainly based on a lost original by the artist himself.

Prof. Flavio Caroli, curator of the Milan exhibition, says: “I am convinced that the portrait was painted by Salai from an idea by Leonardo, who was having fun with the famous image he had created ten years before.”

Prof. David Brown, Curator of Italian Renaissance Painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., added that the original naked Mona Lisa probably forms the “missing link” in a whole series of erotic portraits of men and women by Leonardo and his followers.

Leonardo, who most historians believe was bisexual, is also said to have taken a liking to Salai. Salai entered Leonardo’s studio as a “street urchin” at the age of ten and soon became his assistant. Carlo Pedretti, a leading Italian da Vinci expert, says that Leonardo’s original naked Mona, and its later imitators, also inspired nudes by other artists, including Raphael’s 1518 portrait of his mistress, The Baker Girl.

Meanwhile the clothed Mona Lisa widely regarded as the world’s most famous painting will soon be given a salon of her own. The Louvre in Paris is to begin building a separate room so that the museum’s estimated 5 million visitors a year will have the chance to take a longer look at the 500 year-old lady. Built at a cost of $3.5 million, the new room will be ready next spring.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.