The Mona Lisa returns to the Stibbert Museum after its restoration: «Among the best copies in the world»

There is one more reason to visit the Museum Stibbert: to admire the only Florentine Mona Lisa. Since yesterday the copy of the Mona Lisa which is part of the Stibbert collection is back in the Sala della Quadreria Antica, on the wall where the landlord hung it immediately after having bought it in 1879 for a considerable sum. In the early twentieth century, after the museum was opened to the public, the painting was considered a nineteenth-century copy of no value and relegated to storage where it remained ignored by all scholars for almost a century. When more recently the picture gallery was restored and rearranged as it once was (it had been covered with tapestries), the Mona Lisa was recovered, reconsidered, relocated to its original position and studied. Thus it turned out that the copy was more interesting than expected. And the recently completed restoration — performed by Daniele Rossi with Gloria Verniani with the supervision of the Superintendence and the support of the Friends of the Stibbert Museum Association and the Lions Club Firenze Poggio Imperiale and Catani Gagliani Assicurazioni — confirmed it.

«Florence finally has its Mona Lisa», says the director of the Stibbert Museum Enrico Colle. “It’s one of the best copies in the world.” The nature of the colors used, i.e. the cobalt blue called smalt (and therefore colored and ground glass), the pink of the flesh, the white lead and the yellow and red ochres, the canvas used and the reddish preparation as well as the «superficial craquelure», invite us to place the execution of the work in the early seventeenth century. The close proximity to the Leonardo original – painted between 1503 and 1506 and taken by Leonardo in 1516 to France, where the genius died three years later – would invite, according to the Museum, to consider, albeit with caution, the Florentine painting a copy from the authentic model. “It was probably done in front of the real Mona Lisa, even if we don’t know if the painter was Italian or French,” said Anna Floridia of the Superintendency. The pictorial management takes up Leonardo’s nuanced using color both in body and veiling to obtain different chiaroscuro passages. The copyist then simplifies the folds of the garment and of the decoration and gives us a landscape with small variations: the foreshortened bases with a fragment of columns on the pietra serena balustrade are just hinted at, the decoration of the neckline of the garment has different motifs from the original . The background of the portrait has suffered many losses over the years, and the canvas (Leonardo da Vinci’s original is instead a panel) was first reduced and then enlarged with lateral bands added in a later period. Stibbert bought the painting on May 3, 1879 from the antiquarian Valmori of Florence. On the same day he wrote in his “Account book” that he had purchased “the portrait of Mona Lisa by Beltraffio as a student of Leonardo da Vinci from Casa Mozzi”. In fact, a few days earlier, a large auction had seen the dispersion of the Mozzi del Garbo collection, a very famous collection in Florence. But very little is known about the past prior to the purchase by Stibbert, it is (still) all shrouded in an aura of mystery. What is certain, the Museum explains, is “that it appears to be one of the most valuable works, both from a stylistic point of view and as regards fidelity to the model today in the Louvre” and it is the only copy of the most famous painting in the world kept in Florence.

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November 26, 2022 | 10:12

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