Expert Accepts It as a Version Painted in Part by Leonardo.
"IN NO SENSE A COPY"
Mr. Konody, While Not Impugning Louvre Picture's Authenticity, Thinks This the More Beautiful.
By P. G. Konody.
Special Correspondence of The New York Times
LONDON, Feb. 3.—The news of the discovery of a new and hitherto unknown version of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is likely to be received with a good deal of skepticism. This skepticism turns into hostile incredulity, if the discovery is injudiciously exploited by some press agent who sent out the news broadcast, with wrong statements, misquotations, and other blunders galore. This has been the unfortunate fate of an exceptionally interesting version of the "Mona Lisa," which has recently turned up in the possession of a Mr. Eyre, author and novelist, at Isleworth.
Let it be said at once, the picture in question has nothing whatever to do with any of the innumerable early or late French copies which have from time to time been boomed into prominence. It is not only vastly superior to all of them, but it is of such superb quality that it more than holds its own when compared with the much-restored and repainted Louvre masterpiece. What is even more significant is that it is in no sense of the word a "copy," but varies in some very important points from the Paris "Mona Lisa." The design is altogether different. There is far more background; the spacing is infinitely more pleasing; the head is inclined at a different angle; the background is quite different and far less assertive than in the Paris picture; the features are more delicate, and, let it it be boldly stated, far more pleasing and beautiful than in the Louvre version.
But there are more potent reasons to attach the greatest importance to the new discovery. There is, in the collection of old master drawings at the Louvre an original pen drawing by Raphael, which Is reproduced In Muntz's great work on Leonardo, and which is generally admitted to be a memory sketch by Raphael of Leonardo's "Mona Lisa." Now this memory - sketch is framed at both sides by two columns of which no trace la to be found in the Paris "Mona Lisa." These columns appear in the identical place in the Isleworth picture and are of immense value to the harmonious balance of the composition.
In the notice sent out to the press it is stated that these columns are mentioned by Vasari, which is as little in accordance with fact as most of the other statements made. Thus, one of the points quoted in favor of the authenticity of the picture is one of Leonardo's letters to Marshal de Chaumont. In this letter occurs the passage: "E portar con mecho due quadri di due Nostre Donne di varie grandezze le quale son fatte pel cristianissimo nostro re." While most art historians have framed this to mean that Leonardo took with him "two pictures of Our Lady, of different sizes," the writer of tho widely circulated notice says that the existence of two versions of the "Mona Lisa" Is proved by Leonardo himself referring to two portraits. A literal translation of the quoted passage would, however, run as follows. "And take with me two portraits of two of our ladies, of different sizes, which have been painted for our most Christian King"; the letter thus referring clearly to two different ladies and not to two versions of the same.
However, no specious arguments are needed for the Isleworth picture, the quality of which may speak for itself. And a close investigation of the picture leaves the firm conviction that, though not altogether from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci himself, it emanates most certainly from his studio and was very largely worked up by the master himself. The hands, with their careful and somewhat hard drawing and terra cotta coloring, suggest at once the name of Leonardo's pupil, Marco d' Oggionno; whereas the inimitably soft and lovely painting of the head and bust, the exquisite subtlety of the expression, the golden glow of the general coloring, can be due only to Leonardo. The face shows none of the defects of tho Louvre picture, which are probably due to clumsy repainting.
The present owner of the picture acquired his treasure only about a year ago. He found it hidden in a Somerset mansion, where it had been for a century and a half, and whither it had been brought from Italy.
Needless to say, the acceptance of this work as a picture painted in part at least by Leonardo does not in any way shake the authenticity of the Louvre "Mona Lisa." But it is worth noting that the painting of two versions of the same subject would not be an isolated instance in the practice of Leonardo—witness the "Virgin of the Rocks," of which both the Louvre and the National Gallery in London own authentic versions.