La Joconde Nue

Is La Joconde Nue really the nude double of the Mona Lisa?

By Château de Chantilly

La Joconde Nue in Chantilly 

The Nude Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshop, 1514-1516, From the collection of: Château de Chantilly
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The collection of masterpieces put together by Henri d'Orléans—Duke of Aumale (1822–1897) and founder of the Condé Museum at the Château de Chantilly—is home to quite an enigmatic treasure: the charcoal drawing La Joconde Nue.

Is this intriguing female figure a double of the famous Mona Lisa? Was it really painted by Leonardo da Vinci? Since its acquisition in 1862, no work of art in Chantilly has been met with such contradictory opinions, or sparked such varied rumors.

Through this virtual exhibition, the Condé Museum unveils some of the mysteries of a true icon.

The Nude Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshop, 1514-1516, From the collection of: Château de Chantilly
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The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

Initially hung in pride of place by its owner, in the center of his painting gallery in Chantilly, this portrait of a nude woman, known as La Joconde Nue or Monna Vanna, continues to spark intrigue and inspire questions.

Through this virtual exhibition, the Condé Museum unveils some of the mysteries of a true icon.

The original drawing of La Joconde Nue is what is known, in the context of art history, as a cartoon transfer drawing—a preliminary artwork created by the artist to elaborate on an ambitious composition, before transferring it onto the final compositional surface.

This large drawing, done on brown prepared paper, measures 29.5 inches (74.8 cm) in height and 22 inches (56 cm) in width. It is one of the largest surviving cartoons of the period depicting a single life-size figure.

It depicts a young woman seated in a three-quarter position with her hands crossed.   

She has a bare chest and seems to be looking at her spectators with an ambiguous smile. 

Her hair, skillfully combed and braided, emphasizes her exceptional beauty.

The Nude Mona Lisa, close up 1 (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

The cartoon 

The cartoon is a full-size model intended to be reproduced by transferring it onto another base, such as a wooden panel or a canvas, by means of a transfer system or stitching. 

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

It has been damaged through use, which has led to its devaluation. However, it is now precious evidence of a composition conceived of by Leonardo da Vinci.   

The exact date that it was made is unknown. However, we do know that it was drawn after the Mona Lisa, which  Leonardo's stay in Rome between 1513 and 1516.

The Nude Mona Lisa, close up 1 (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

La Joconde Nue and Leonardo da Vinci 

There has been much debate surrounding the identity of the artist behind the Chantilly cartoon. However, various arguments allow us to conclude that this composition was created by Leonardo himself. 

Portrait of a Lady of Saint Petersburg (Après 1878) by Leonardo da VinciChâteau de Chantilly

A preparatory drawing for this figure, from the Queen of England's collections, is attributed to him. 

In addition, a portrait of a nude woman showing the upper body can be found in the inventory of his favorite pupil, Salaì, among copies of Leonardo's paintings.

Finally, the great success of this work, which gave rise to multiple copies and reinterpretations, can only be found among Leonardo's own creations. 

Moreover, other technical elements corroborate this conclusion…

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

Scientific analyses 

Recent scientific analyses have made it possible to complete our understanding. The watermark (or trademark) on the paper of this drawing dates back to Leonardo's lifetime, in Italy.

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

 The technique used is Leonardo's own: soft blurring or sfumato, using charcoal. This consisted of blurring the edges between different parts of the drawing to create smoother transitions.

The work has been found to have undergone changes throughout the course of its history. For example, the fingers have been transformed, indicating that this drawing is an original work of art rather than a copy. 

Finally, left-handed strokes have been found all over, and we know that Leonardo was left-handed ...

Mona Lisa (XIXème siècle) by Leonardo da VinciChâteau de Chantilly

La Joconde Nue and The Mona Lisa 

Although La Joconde Nue has been close to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre since the 17th century, the two paintings do not depict the same model. 

Mona Lisa (XIXème siècle) by Leonardo da VinciChâteau de Chantilly

Nevertheless, the two works share some interesting similarities: a similar composition, almost identical dimensions, and the way in which the hands are positioned, with one on top of the other, just like the Mona Lisa.

When he drew La Joconde Nue, Leonardo may simply have wished to reuse the very successful composition that he used for his Mona Lisa, whose gaze and poise already impressed his contemporaries.

Simonetta Vespucci (Vers 1480) by Piero di CosimoChâteau de Chantilly

The trendsetters

La Joconde Nue is the result of the artistic developments that took place in Florence and Venice at the end of the 15th century, which gave rise to the Bella Donna genre, characterized by portraits of beautiful, glorified, naked, sensual, timeless women. 

Simonetta Vespucci (Vers 1480) by Piero di CosimoChâteau de Chantilly

One of the best-known examples of this artistic movement can be found in Chantilly and is none other than the Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, by Piero di Cosimo (circa 1480). 

This profile portrait depicts the most beautiful woman in Florence—who died young—naked, with an intricate hairstyle adorned with pearls. 

She is heavily idealized and evokes pure beauty and chastity.

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

Similarly, La Joconde Nue represents an idealized beauty, however, it is completely devoid of artifice, which reinforces its eroticism.

 Her distinctive hairstyle is a nod to the goddess Venus, known to Leonardo through ancient statues. Her androgynous beauty—both masculine and feminine at the same time—shows that there is no living model behind her. Rather, she represents Leonardo da Vinci's vision of ideal beauty. 

The great Renaissance artist (of the 14th and 15th centuries) not only wished to create a goddess of beauty and sensuality, but above all, a living goddess to outshine the art of classical antiquity.

Woman Bathing (1598 - 1599) by AnonymousChâteau de Chantilly

La Joconde Nue and France: the development of a pictorial genre 

La Joconde Nue inspired many artists in France during the Renaissance.

Woman Bathing (1598 - 1599) by AnonymousChâteau de Chantilly

As a matter of fact, the collection of King Francis I included several antique and Italian nudes, both painted and sculpted, and probably included a Joconde Nue, as well. 

Throughout his reign and that of his son Henry II, Italian artists who were active in France revitalised the question of female nudity with their creations.

When French painters then took up the subject, nude women became nude ladies, bathing in refined, noble surroundings, often symbolizing springtime, fertility, fruitfulness, and motherhood.

This trend is perfectly illustrated by the painting of A Lady in Her Bath, probably wrongly identified as the mistress of King Henry IV, Gabrielle d'Estrées, painted in France in the late 16th century, which is exhibited at the Chateau de Chantilly.

The Nude Mona Lisa (1514-1516) by Leonardo Da Vinci or his workshopChâteau de Chantilly

From its enigmatic origins to its remarkable influence, La Joconde Nue is an undeniably iconic work of art.

Despite all the new discoveries, the Chantilly drawing still retains its share of secrecy: that's what earns it its place among the true icons.

Poster from the Nude Mona Lisa exhibition (2019) by Domaine of ChantillyChâteau de Chantilly

A virtual exhibition from the exhibition La Joconde Nue, organized by Domaine de Chantilly, June 1–October 6, 2019. Curator: Mathieu Deldicque, Heritage Curator; Vincent Delieuvin, Chief Heritage Curator; Louvre Museum, Paintings Department; Guillaume Kazerouni, 

Credits: Story

Head of Ancient Collections, Paintings and Drawings; The Rennes Museum of Fine Arts.   The texts are inspired by those in the exhibition catalog La Joconde Nue, under the direction of Mathieu Deldicque, co-curated by In Fine éditions d'art and Domaine de Chantilly, 2019. 

Virtual exhibition designed by Clara Voiry.

Images ©RMN-Grand Palais Domaine de Chantilly

For all orders, please contact www.photo.rmn.fr 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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