Here we go again. Yet another Mona Lisa makes the news with the customary question: did Leonardo da Vinci paint it? That was the question only two years ago when a topless version titled Monna Vanna came to public attention. The latest rendition mirrors the one in the Louvre. And while some experts see it as a copy, Oscar Holland, reporting for CNN, says, "a handful of art historians believe it to be an earlier, unfinished version" by the artist himself. If true, the owner stands to make millions. That's the crux of the news story - who owns it? But is that the right question?

Nothing to smile about

For the last half-century, this latest Mona lookalike sat unseen in a Swiss bank vault. Then in 2017 an anonymous consortium acquired the work, last seen in a Shanghai gallery. One of its harshest critics, Martin Kemp, a leading Da Vinci authority and Oxford University professor emeritus, told Holland, "All of the people who have written substantially and seriously about Leonardo have either ignored it or have dismissed it." He dubbed the work one of a number of "non-Leonardos...You see a lot of Mona Lisa variants ... and this one I would classify in the middle of the range.

It's not nasty, but it's equally not overstatingly convincing."

First-hand knowledge

That said, one may wonder why even a few historians would argue for the authenticity of this work, especially given Renaissance historian Giorgio Vasari's exhaustive chronicling of its creation 510 years ago. “I am firmly convinced," writes former director of the National Gallery R. Langton Douglas, "that Vasari's account of the Monna Lisa is based on personal knowledge."

Slow worker

From what Vasari tells us, Da Vinci wouldn't have painted more than one Mona Lisa because of his agonizingly slow painting pace.

For example, he lingered over the Louvre painting, a mere 30-by-21 inches image, for four years and still didn't finish it. Why would anyone think he painted more than one? Certainly, the Louvre portrait was the one Da Vinci coveted. When King Francis of France invited him to the Fontainebleu, he brought the portrait with him. After he died in the palace, the portrait became part of the French collection.

Overhyped Media Coverage

But here's the thing. This portrait wouldn't appear in even a single news story if it hadn't been stolen from the Louvre in 1911. In fact, it was thought back then so unremarkable that no one even noticed it was missing until the day after Italian workman Vincenzo Perugia swiped it to "revenue Napoleon’s looting of Italian art treasures from Italy.” The story of the theft and the detective work to retrieve it captured the world's attention.

Continuing stories of other Mona Lisa portraits are keeping it in the news. Art historian Donald Sassoon makes this point in the title of his 2001 Book: "Becoming Mona Lisa; the Making of a Global Icon." The big question isn't who owns this lookalike, but why we keep falling for the media hype.

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