The provenance of a painting dubbed the “Early Mona Lisa” which is also known as the “Isleworth Mona Lisa” has been traced back to an English noble who probably bought it in Italy in the late 18th century, and a country house where it was found in 1911. The discovery occurred as the work went on display for the first time in Singapore in an exhibition about the portrait and Leonardo da Vinci – the show has been put on by a Swiss foundation who are arguing that da Vinci painted it before the version in the Paris Louvre.
“We feel these latest discoveries and new scientific analysis just carried out leave little doubt that it is Leonardo’s work,” stated David Feldman, a Geneva-based auctioneer and vice-president of the Zurich “Mona Lisa Foundation. The vast majority of experts now either agree with us or accept that there is a strong case for our thesis,” he said.
The painting portrays a younger Lisa del Giacondo, a Florentine merchant’s wife who is the subject of the masterpiece in the Louvre, the work entered the collection of the French royal family after Leonardo died in France in 1519. The “earlier” version, whose existence is actually mentioned in several accounts from the early 16th century, came to light in modern times when British art dealer and collector Hugh Blaker found it in 1911 in a country house in the south-west of England.
Blaker, made several unsuccessful efforts to have it authenticated, but never identified the house or the then owners, and, mysteriously, his diaries of the key years have gone missing. A team of researchers have told Reuters that they have traced a work titled “La Joconde” loaned to an art exhibition in the town of Yeovil in 1856 and sold to a silver dealer two years later.
The team then worked the provenance back from there, and found a document declaring that a young Somerset noble, James Marwood, owned a painting by Leonardo know as “La Joconde” that he had probably bought on a visit to Italy around the 1780s. The team also established an implicit link to another local noble family who had a deep interest in Renaissance art and lived in Montacute House, which is now a major tourist attraction.
The researchers say Blaker’s made brief references to the house where he found the painting – and the references indicate that it was indeed Montacute. By 1911 the owners of the house had fallen on hard times and had begun to secretly sell their possessions to secure the propertry.