Prague’s Nude Mona Lisa sent to France

Nude Mona Lisa, photo: archive of National Gallery in Prague

A large exhibition is currently being held at France’s Condé Museum in the Domaine de Chantilly depicting the lesser-known yet seminal work of Leonardo da Vinci: the Nude Mona Lisa. One of the important copies which visitors are able to see was loaned by the National Gallery in Prague.

Nude Mona Lisa,  photo: archive of National Gallery in Prague
Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa portrait has a double. And she is naked.

Known as the “Monna Vanna” (Vain Woman), or simply as “Venus”, the charcoal drawing may have been produced either by da Vinci himself or his workshop, according to laboratory test results made in 2017.

What seems to be the original drawing is held at the Condé Museum near the French capital, but there are many other nude Mona Lisas in galleries across Europe, a consequence of the original drawing’s popularity in the early 16th century.

Now, for the 500th anniversary of the great Italian polymath’s death, the museum has decided to bring many of the copies to Condé, giving visitors the chance to compare the various pictures to the original.

One of them has been sent from the National Gallery in Prague, whose curator Olga Kotková, says it provides a good perspective into how Leonardo da Vinci would have been understood in 16th century Northern Europe.

“It was probably painted by Joos van Cleve, a painter from the Netherlands. That is very important because it shows the reputation of Master Leonardo.

“There is also an interesting detail. You may know that Da Vinci signed his name from right to left, because he was left handed. In this copy you can see Leonardo’s signature is made in exactly the same right-to-left manner. The intention was therefore evidently to make it seem the picture was painted by Master Leonardo himself.”

Mona Lisa,  photo: Public Domain
Cleve was a great admirer of da Vinci and made the painting sometime during the 1530s, while residing at the court of the King Francis I. of France.

It seems to have ended up in the Czech lands sometime during the 18th century, but the painting’s exact location was not always clear. Then, in the 1960s, it was purchased by the National Gallery from an antique shop in Prague.

The painting is a paraphrase of da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa, says the National Gallery curator.

“The seated woman is shown in exactly the same pose as in the famous Mona Lisa painting with the exception that she is nude. That is the focus of this picture, showing nude female beauty and what a courtesan would have looked like.”

The painting will be in France until early October. The loan was possible in part due to its very good condition as well as the importance of the exhibition.