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Leonardo and the copy of the Mona Lisa. New approaches to the artist’s studio practices

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 9/28/2021 - 1/23/2022

Curated by Ana González Mozo, Senior Technician of Museums in the Museum’s Conservation Department, Leonardo and the copy of the Mona Lisa. New approaches to the artist’s studio practices is the result of an ambitious research project which the Prado undertook in parallel and in collaboration with other international institutions, such as the Musée du Louvre, the Molecular Archaeology Laboratory at the Sorbonne and the National Gallery, London.

The presence in the exhibition (which benefits from the collaboration of the City Council of Madrid) of a carefully selected group of works painted by pupils and followers of Leonardo offers a unique opportunity to publicly present the results of the most recent research on the artist’s closest circle and to analyse teaching methods and the production of paintings in the context of Italian studios in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Since the presentation of the research on the copy of the Mona Lisa in the Museo Nacional del Prado, the painting has been included in most catalogues and research projects on Leonardo and his collaborators. Stimulated by the studies that accompanied the exhibition La Sainte Anne, l’ultime chef-d’oeuvre de Léonard de Vinci (Musée du Louvre, 2012) and those presented at some of the events organised to mark Leonardo year in 2019, the most recent analyses of the drawings, treatises and pictorial technique of the master and his closest circle have helped to increase understanding of both Leonardo’s pictorial thinking and the works produced in the context of his studio.

Structured around the Prado copy of the Mona Lisa and the information derived from the technical images made possible by new analytical equipment, the Prado is now focusing on the unique and unconventional figure of Leonardo as a teacher and on other characteristically Renaissance themes: the importance of the idea; the concept of the original; and the function and types of copies derived from prototypes created by the great masters. The works on display, which are based on paintings and drawings by Leonardo, also facilitate an understanding of how his theoretical knowledge was assimilated by his pupils while helping to explain many of the ideas and observations expressed in his writings.

The exhibition is based on the new orientation and significance that Leonardo studies have acquired following the exhibitions devoted to the artist at the Louvre in 2012 and 2019; the scientific analyses undertaken at the Prado and the Hammer Museum on their copies and the infrared reflectogram of the Ganay version of the Salvator Mundi; on the increased understanding - deriving from the results of recent studies - of the nature of the copies and works executed in the bottega vinciana during the master’s lifetime and authorised by him, given that not all of them reflect the same intentions or were made with the same aim; and on the scientific study of the painting in the Museo Nacional del Prado carried out with the help of recently updated technology. 

Ana González Mozo, Senior Technician of Museums in the Museum’s Conservation Department


Room D. Jerónimos Building

With the collaboration of:



The exhibition

The exhibition
The Mona Lisa
Studio of Leonardo da Vinci, authorised and supervised by him
Oil on panel, 76.3 x 57 cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

There were moments when Leonardo found it difficult to paint due to his perfectionism and his numerous other occupations and his pupils undertook the task for him. Infrared reflectogram of the two principal versions of The Madonna of the Yarnwinder confirm that they were painted simultaneously by students trying out different compositional options and following the instructions of the master, who could see how his ideas worked when executed by others. His pupils did not always paint prototypes as a reference. For these versions of The Madonna of the Yarnwinder, The Young Saviour and Leda the “original” was undoubtedly a cartoon made by Leonardo based on early sketches that he used throughout his career. These works show how he based his teaching and practice on the repetition and correction of certain forms, which explains why he depicted few subjects and reused his models.

One of Leonardo’s aims was to stimulate volume and the impression of the bodies softly blurring into their surroundings. The sculptural relief that he gave his figures, making use of an earth tone base to model the transition from shadow to light, is exemplified in the cartoon for Saint Anne and in a more summary manner in some works by his followers, such as The Christ Child with a Lamb and The Young Saviour. Only an indirect follower, Andrea del Sarto, was able to put Leonardo’s complex observations on these issues in practice.

Technical studies have confirmed that the copies of Leonardo’s most admired works - those of the Mona Lisa, Saint Anne and the Salvator Mundi- were made in his presence and under his supervision. They are all very carefully executed using expensive materials and retain the personality of the as yet unidentified artist who painted them. Two of them reproduce intermediate states in the slow production of the originals, making then exceptional records of the master’s reflections and corrections during their creation.

An examination of the works produced in Leonardo’s studio reveals aspects of the artistic personality of its members. It also tells us about their training with Leonardo, which focused on the observation and understanding of the effects of light and colour that he made such efforts to reproduce. As long as his student’s works reflected the aims that he had defined for art, he was willing to pass on ideas to them so that they could try our different ways of painting.

A comparative analysis of the infrared reflectogram of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and its Prado copy reveals identical details concealed beneath their surfaces. This confirms that the two artists worked in parallel and that the copyist reproduced much of the creative process of the original without trying to impersonate it. Many of the invisible modifications in the Paris Mona Lisa are repeated in the Madrid panel. The latter also shows corrections and free lines of drawing unrelated to the original, which reflect the painter’s doubts and suggest a more complex process than that of a mere copy.

Studies undertaken in paintings produced in Leonardo’s studio reveal shared graphic and pictorial practices which prove that although he supervised his students he allowed them to retain their own styles. Nonetheless, his idea that the reproduction of nature should not be mediated by the hand of the artists encouraged them to dissimulate the brushstrokes and lines on the surface of their works. The way each pupil blended the pigment was highly individual; some used their fingers while other imitated the master’s graphic technique and painted tiny networks of red and white strokes over grey grounds which are only visible in macro photographs.

The importance that Leonardo placed on his ideas is confirmed in the paintings executed by his pupils based on his drawings. They include Leda and the Swan, a composition only painted by them and of which there are different variants. Sketches by Leonardo survive for the queen’s hair and pose, both half kneeling and standing. All the surviving paintings except one by Giampietrino show the figure in that way. The challenge to these painters when depicting the subject was to combine the body and the landscape, making use of the hair and the vegetation as elements that convey movement, an effect Leonardo achieved with such mastery in his drawings. The painted versions of Leda offer a clear example of how the master’s followers made use of his ideas and working material. This is evident in Giampietrino’s Leda; the reflectogram of it shows a mechanical system employed to transfer the composition to the support from a cartoon, possibly an original by Leonardo, and beneath it another composition by the master, that of Saint Anne, which had previously been transferred.



Reproduction of The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (The Buccleuch Madonna)

Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1452 -1519) and studio

Oil on panel

c. 1501–10

Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, long loan in The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust, 2008


Infrared reflectogram of The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (The Buccleuch Madonna)

Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Christ Child embracing a Lamb

The Christ Child embracing a Lamb

Lombard painter (Studio of Leonardo da Vinci?)

Oil on panel, 72 x 56 cm


Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba


Reproduction of The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Heads in profile

Leonardo da Vinci, (h. 1542 -1519)

Pen and ink, 405 x 290 mm

c. 1478–80

London, The Royal Collection Trust

The Young Saviour

The Young Saviour

Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1466/67–1516)

Oil on panel, 25.3 x 18.5 cm

c. 1490–95

Madrid, Museo Lázaro Galdiano


Reproducción de Santa Ana, la Virgen y el Niño, detalle

Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1452–1519)

Charcoal (and wash?) heightened with white chalk on paper, mounted on canvas, 1415 x 1046 mm

c. 1500

London, The National Gallery, Purchased with a special grant and contributions from the Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, and through a public appeal organised by the Art Fund, 1962

The Salvator Mundi (Ganay version)

The Salvator Mundi (Ganay version)

Studio of Leonardo da Vinci, authorised and supervised by him

Oil on panel, 68.2 x 48.8 cm

c. 1505–15

Private collection


Infrared reflectogram of The Salvator Mundi (Ganay version), detail

Made by Arcanes / Matthieu Lombard


Infrared reflectogram of Saint Anne, the Virgin and Child, detail

Studio of Leonardo da Vinci

c. 1508–13

Los Angeles, Collection University of California, Hammer Museum, Willitts J. Hole Art

Made by the J. Paul Getty Institute, Los Angeles


Infrared reflectogram of The Mona Lisa, (Museo Nacional del Prado), detail

Made by the Museo Nacional de Prado


Macro photograph of The Mona Lisa

(Museo Nacional del Prado)


Reproduction of Head of the Virgin seen in three-quarter view detail

Leonardo da Vinci (h. 1452-1519)

Charcoal, wash and white highlights

c. 1507–10,

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951


Infrared reflectogram of Portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, known as La Gioconda or The Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci, Paris, Musée du Louvre

Made by C2RMF (Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France)



After Leonardo da Vinci

Tempera on panel, 115 x 86 cm


Rome, Galleria Borghese


Reproduction of Leda and the Swan

Leonardo da Vinci, (h. 1452-1519)

Black chalk, pen and grey-brown ink, 128 x 109 mm


Rotterdam, Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen


Infrared reflectogram of Leda and her Children


Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, Giampietrino [c. 1485–c. 1553], Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Made by the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel

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