John Asmus (BS '58, MS '59, PhD '65)

Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of his most celebrated artworks. These are his Virgin of the Rocks, Virgin and Child, and The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. For centuries there has been speculation concerning the possible existence of a second Mona Lisa, as well. Countless Mona Lisa copies have surfaced and several have been advanced as the long-lost "Second Mona Lisa," only to be dismissed after failing scientific or historical scrutiny. Twenty-seven years ago the heirs of the late Joseph Pulitzer asked me to examine a painting known as the "Isleworth Mona Lisa" in the family collection of fine art. This invitation was extended in response to my ten-year study (instigated by Walter Munk, '48) of the varnishes and pentimenti of the Louvre Mona Lisa. Subsequently, the Isleworth painting has passed every available scientific test from radiocarbon dating to digital-image age regression. I determined that Leonardo painted the Isleworth piece around 1503 and the Louvre portrait around 1513. This discovery settled a protracted debate among art historians as to whether Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1513. Both dates are correct, but for two different paintings.

In Their Own Words