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French convinced they have unearthed nude sketch of Mona Lisa

French scientists believe a 500-year-old charcoal drawing of a topless woman is indeed an early sketch of the Mona Lisa - done by Da Vinci himself.

French convinced they have unearthed nude sketch of Mona Lisa
Photo: Domaine de Chantilly Screenshot/AFP

Scientists at the Louvre in Paris, where his masterpiece is held, have been examining a charcoal drawing known as the “Monna Vanna” which had been attributed to the Florentine master's studio.

The large drawing has been held since 1862 in the huge collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum at the palace of Chantilly, north of the French capital.

Curators from the museum believe that after a month of tests at the Louvre the “drawing is at least in part” by Leonardo.

“The drawing has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable. It is not a pale copy,” curator Mathieu Deldicque told AFP.

“We are looking at something which was worked on in parallel with the Mona Lisa at the end of Leonardo's life,” he added.

“It is almost certainly a preparatory work for an oil painting,” he added, with the obvious inference being that it is closely connected to the Mona Lisa.

'Almost identical'

The hands and body, Deldicque said, are almost identical to Leonardo's inscrutable masterpiece.

The drawing is almost the same size as the Mona Lisa, and small holes pierced around the figure point to the fact it may have been used to trace its form onto a canvas, he argued.

Louvre conservation expert Bruno Mottin confirmed that the drawing dates from Leonardo's lifetime at the turn of the 15th century and that it was of a “very high quality”.

Tests, he told the Parisien newspaper, had already revealed that it was not a copy of a lost original.

But he said that “we must remain prudent” about definitively attributing it to Leonardo, who died in France in 1519.

“The hatching on the top of the drawing near the head was done by a right-handed person. Leonardo drew with his left hand.

“It is job that is going to take some time,” he added.

“It is a very difficult drawing to work on because it is particularly fragile.”

But Mottin said that they hoped to pin down the identity of the artist within two years, in time for an exhibition at Chantilly to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death.

More than 10 experts have been poring over the drawing for the past few weeks, using a variety of scans and other scientific methods.

Their investigations have been centred on working out if the drawing was made before or after the Mona Lisa, which was painted sometime after 1503.

The Chantilly drawing had originally been attributed to the Tuscan master when it was bought by the Duc d'Aumale in 1862 for 7,000 francs, a substantial sum at the time.

But later specialists had their doubts and thought it more likely that it came from a member of the artist's studio.

Around 20 paintings and drawings of nude Mona Lisas exist in collections across the world but most have proved very difficult to date.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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