The Mona Lisa exhibition has been on in Singapore since 16 December 2014, in what has been billed as its World Premiere. But it was only this afternoon I got to visit it for a glimpse of the earlier version of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting and to discover the history behind it. And what a fascinating experience and learning journey it turned out to be!
The Earlier Mona Lisa (right) and the portrait in Louvre (below)
This is the first time worldwide that the earlier version of Mona Lisa, described as the Discovery of the Century, is on public display, with Singapore getting the privilege to kick off the world tour.
This Earlier Mona Lisa and the portrait at the Louvre Museum in Paris are both original creations of da Vinci. I had seen the later version of the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre Museum in July 2008.
Having seen both the original masterpieces of the genius, I can now say the earlier version presents a younger, prettier Mona Lisa with the potential to outshine the one in Louvre.
Tablet-Led Interactive Multimedia Show
The Earlier Mona Lisa exhibition is on at the Arts House, Old Parliament building, in Singapore. Every visitor is provided with a tablet for use while going around the various exhibits documenting the history behind the portrait, including the scientific and historical evidence supporting its attribution to da Vinci.
The tablet features an interactive multimedia presentation that captures the fascinating circumstances that led to the creation of the eventual portrait. It serves as a handy tool to tap into for explanations on every panel at the show. You can carry the tablet along and click on the relevant clips at your convenience, so there is no distraction from the exhibits. It gives you a unique, enhanced experience.
It is in effect a documentary with succinct commentaries and breathtakingly stunning visuals from around Italy, France and England. It also takes us into a studio environment with a dramatisation of da Vinci and his pupils at work.
Scientific/Mathematical, Historical Evidence
Visitors to the exhibition get a detailed view of the scientific and historical evidence gathered to establish that the Early Mona Lisa was indeed a da Vinci painting.
The verification process included a thorough and sophisticated analysis that took years to complete. The various forms of scientific testing included spectral, pixel and visual analyses, harmonic geometry (a mathematical code that was first used by Archimedes), X-ray / ultraviolet ray tests and comparisons between the earlier and later Mona Lisa paintings.
The process received historicity with a review of ancient books on da Vinci and his work, some of which are also on display at the show, taking viewers on a joyous trip to a distant past.
Copies from da Vinci’s students who worked with the artist in his studio were also analysed. I learnt that that was a time when his pupils would draw their own versions simultaneously as da Vinci was progressing with his work. That was a part of learning for his pupils. One of them, Raphael, had come up with a sketch resembling the Earlier Mona Lisa.
The show was an enlightenment for me in multiple ways. I gathered that every painter in that era made it a habit to draw more than one version of the same portrait. da Vinci had created two or more versions of many of his other paintings.
Experts Convinced 100% of Authenticity
All of the detailed reviews had convinced experts 100% that the Earlier Mona Lisa was indeed the original work of da Vinci and not a copy/
This ‘Early Mona Lisa’ painting, discovered before the First World War and kept hidden in a Swiss bank vault for 40 years, was first unveiled in 2012 after secret tests were carried out to ascertain its authenticity.
Experts were convinced that it was a true Da Vinci work.
An interactive multimedia presentation captures the fascinating circumstances that led to the creation of the eventual portrait. You get to explore the world of the Renaissance at the time Mona Lisa was painted.
This is a photo from the Louvre Museum in Paris, with me standing close to the Mona Lisa on display there.
So, this is an opportunity for Singaporeans to see first hand the original version of the Early Mona Lisa painting and get an understanding of the mysteries and discoveries surrounding it.
Isleworth Mona Lisa
The Earlier Mona Lisa painting was earlier known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa. It was because an art collector had bought it in 1913 from a British aristocrat and took it to his studio in Isleworth in London for restoration. In 1915, it was shipped to the U.S. for safe-keeping. Dr Henry Pulitzer, another art collector and gallerist, is said to have bought it in the 1960s and kept it in a bank vault in Switzerland.
An anonymous international consortium bought in 2008 and eventually it was unveiled in September 2012 in Geneva after its authenticity was verified.
The exhibition is on till February 11 and is open from 11am to 10pm daily at the Arts House, Old Parliament building. A standard ticket costs S$20 and for students/senior citizens it is S$15.
G Joslin Vethakumar