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Raphael's Mona Lisa

Sunday, 27 March 2016
Raphael, Young woman at the balcony, 1504, Florence
"Raphael's Mona Lisa"

No, you are not reading wrong, I do talk about Raphael's Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's one. I know, it is quite strange, but a lot of things are in art. However, it is not a mystery that artists working in the same country, the same area, tended to meet each others to talk about, and criticize, their latest paintings, and art of their time in general. It was also quite regular to have some artists copying their colleagues' paintings to work on their technic, or just to try to achieve something better than them. In Leonardo and Raphael's case it is well-known that they were rivals, both of them trying to be the best painter in Florence wit two completely different styles. But in 1504 Raphael was only a young painter, and his decision to come to Florence was at the time more motivated by learning than rivalry. He actually came ti become Leonardo's apprentice, and copying his master's canvas was an important part of is learning process. However Raphael as in Florence in 1504, so four years before Da Vinci painted his famous Mona Lisa, exhibited at the Louvre. This painting is for sure the better known of Art History, nevertheless the first version of this portrait is also a masterpiece that deserves to be known.

                                Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1508, Florence               Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa d'Isleworth, 1504,                  
    Painted in 1504, the year Raphael was in Leonardo da Vinci's studio, this version is for sure the one copied by the student. And once we have established that Raphael's drawing is a copy in his own style of the first Mona Lisa it becomes quite easy to link the two art pieces.
   The composition is quite the same, with the two columns around the woman and the landscape at the second plan. On the two paintings figures have the same attitude, and the faces, different even if took on the same model, have  a lot of things in common, from attitude to the body position. However, Raphael seems to have wanted to work a little bit more the facial expression, and the pencil medium allowed him to do so, putting a lot of details in the face. The student chooses to work the face in a completely different way, and so the beauty is not the same, it is more natural, juvenile and expressive than in Da Vinci's painting. But this is mostly due to the medium, drawing instead of painting, which allows Raphael to add expressivity in his drawing with a lot of features. Leonardo da Vinci's works are however massive master pieces, especially the 1508 painting. His impressive technic and the original composition of the canvas have made of this painting a portrait appart from all others. But Raphael chooses simplicity, and a simple drawing becomes a master piece. Does the student has overtopped his master with a simple drawing? It is up to you to answer this question. 

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