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The Earlier Mona Lisa exhibition

The Earlier Mona Lisa exhibition is beginning its world tour, and Singapore has the honour of being the first stop ahead of major art cities like Hong Kong and New York. Find out what to expect at this interactive exhibition

If seeing the famous ‘Mona Lisa’ is on your bucket list, well, we've got good news. You wouldn't need to fly across the world to Paris because you'll get to view it in Singapore – theEarlier Mona Lisa’, that is. We’re talking about another painting of Lisa del Giocondo, previously known as the ‘Isleworth Mona Lisa’ and estimated to have been painted in 1503, which puts it about ten years ahead of the better-known ‘Mona Lisa’ hanging in the Louvre. Unlike its completed Paris counterpart, the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ is unfinished and with a starkly different background – it is set against a balcony with flanking columns. Lisa also bears a younger visage here.

Is it really painted by da Vinci?

According to the Mona Lisa Foundation which has been entrusted to acquaint the world with the painting, the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ is said to have garnered votes of confidence on its authenticity by 27 out of 28 art and history experts. This analysis is based on historical artefacts, comparative forensic analyses of the two paintings, and an understanding of how this second (or first, depending on how you look at it) work conveniently addresses some inconsistencies about the ‘Mona Lisa’. Among the various evidence is the 1504 ‘Young Woman on a Balcony’ by Raphael, which mirrors the same columns and composition as the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’, and sketched during his apprenticeship with da Vinci. Quite critically, Florentine clerk Agostino Vespucci commented in a note, dated to October 1503, that da Vinci’s painting of Lisa del Giocondo bore a similar style to works by ancient Greek painter Apelles; this further supports the possibility that da Vinci left the portrait unfinished, just like how Apelles painted Venus’ head and bust in great detail but left the body relatively incomplete.

It is now believed that the unfinished ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ was commissioned in 1503 by Francesco del Giocondo, husband to the young woman in the picture; the1513 Louvre version is thought to have been a second commission by da Vinci’s patron Giuliano de’ Medici.

The foundation does acknowledge that it is difficult to assert with 100 percent accuracy that the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ is indeed a da Vinci piece, but the superior quality of the art and the various evidence unearthed seem to be largely supportive of this claim.

What to expect at the exhibition

A little surprisingly, the eponymous exhibition will be held at The Arts House at the Old Parliament, passing over bigger players such as The ArtScience Museum and the Singapore Art Museum. To be designed and built in Singapore, the exhibition promises to be an interactive, multi-media experience. Visitors will be equipped with a tablet (yes, that’s part of your ticket price) as they explore their way through nine galleries that present the rediscovery of the painting in 1913 England, available historical evidence, scientific and comparative analyses, and expert opinions. For instance, you will get to appreciate how both paintings bear similar proportions in line with the Golden Ratio which da Vinci favours in his works.

The Earlier Mona Lisa will be at The Arts House from 16 Dec-11 Feb 2015.