A painting thought to be the earliest replica of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been discovered at Madrid's Prado Museum.

The artwork was covered over with black paint and varnish and the image has only just been revealed as a result of restoration work. Before this the work had been assumed to be a replica of the Mona Lisa made after Leonardo’s death but new evidence confirms it was created by one of Leonardo's students alongside the 16th century original.

It is hoped the new find will shed light on how Leonardo Da Vinci developed the Mona Lisa, as well as revealing how vibrant the original may have been when it was first created. The original in the Louvre in Paris is sadly obscured by old, cracked varnish and is considered too fragile to be restored in the foreseeable future. The Madrid copy has areas that are better preserved than in the Louvre painting and gives more detail of certain areas of the painting.

The Prado museum presented its findings at a conference on Leonardo da Vinci at London's National Gallery. The Art Newspaper, which first reported the discovery, said the ‘This sensational find will transform our understanding of the world’s most famous picture. ‘

The fully conserved replica is expected to be unveiled at the Prado in Madrid in mid-February. It is then due to be loaned to the Louvre in Paris in March.

Image credits:

A detail of the nearly-conserved Prado copy of the Mona Lisa (Photo: © Museum Nacional del Prado)

The Louvre's Mona Lisa