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Prado Museum unearths 'Mona Lisa' replica painted alongside the Da Vinci original

In-depth study of discovery will shed new light on the great master's methods

The vast holdings of the Prado Museum have yielded one of the most significant discoveries ever made in art history. Curators at the Madrid museum have unearthed a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa that was painted at the same time as the original by one of the master's favorite pupils, probably Andrea Salai or Francesco Melzi.

Experts at the Prado have spent months analyzing, cleaning and removing the dark overpaint that covered the painting, which for years had been considered just another copy of the famous Mona Lisa. Now, though, it has been re-catalogued as a landmark in art history.

Top experts at the Prado and the Musée du Louvre in Paris - which holds the original - have accepted the official nature of this major find, according to sources consulted by EL PAÍS and also picked up in the online publication The Art Newspaper.

The work will in all likelihood be temporarily ceded to the Louvre, where it will be exhibited in the same gallery as the original. Although many copies of the Mona Lisa exist, this is the earliest known replica, given that it was painted virtually at the same time, inside Leonardo's studio, and not after his death as previously believed.

The painter of the replica made changes as he went, adapting to the original Mona Lisa even as it was taking shape beside him. The size of both paintings is practically the same: 77 x 53 centimeters for the original and 76 x 57 centimeters for the copy.

An in-depth study of the painting will shed new light on how work was conducted at the great master's studio, and will likely change existing theories about the immortal portrait of a young woman believed to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich merchant from Florence named Francesco del Giocondo.

Leonardo da Vinci's original <i>Mona Lisa</i> (left) next to the replica unearthed in the Prado.
Leonardo da Vinci's original Mona Lisa (left) next to the replica unearthed in the Prado.

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