The mystery behind this true icon

For the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, the Domaine de Chantilly will celebrate the artist’s genius through one of his lesser-known and enigmatic yet seminal work: the Nude Mona Lisa.


The birth of a genre: around Simonetta Vespucci

The Nude Mona Lisa "invented" by Leonardo is the result of budding research in Florentine Neoplatonist circles during the 1480s with whom the master was acquainted. The portraits of Simonetta Vespucci, a fatal beauty who died prematurely and was the object of Giuliano de Medici’s platonic love, attest to this. Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo painted her in the nude, thus giving birth to a true pictorial subject matter, polysemous and at the intersection of genres. For these artists, and notably the Venetians (as seen for example in the famous Portrait of a woman by Bartolomeo Veneto held at the Städel Museum in Frankfort), the feminine naked portrait became the archetype of universal beauty.


Leonardo and the Nude Mona Lisa

The heart of the exhibition will be dedicated to the prestigious Chantilly sketch or cartoon representing the Nude Mona Lisa, which was purchased by the duc d’Aumale in 1862. Designed after the Mona Lisa, this masterpiece was the physical symbol both of a play between pictorial genres and of a polysemy characteristic of Leonardo’s fertile mind. The Italian master spent a lot of time perfecting his work. Laboratory analyses have succeeding in showing that the Chantilly drawing was used as a tracing (to transfer the composition) for paintings probably created in his workshop. For the first time ever, they are shown together here. Numerous students and followers of Leonardo used his composition, drew inspiration from it or shifted its meaning. This will be the unique occasion to bring several replicas together, as well as to compare them to the Chantilly sketch or cartoon and to each other.


Who created the Nude Mona Lisa of Chantilly? Scientific analyses to solve part of the mystery

The exhibition will also showcase the laboratory exams that were conducted along with the study of the Chantilly masterpiece.


The Nude Mona Lisa in Renaissance France

The Nude Mona Lisa gained early recognition in France, most likely through an original or a copy. François Clouet, the son of Francis I’s portraitist, drew inspiration from it for his Lady in Her Bath (Washington, National Gallery of Art), a composition promised to a bright future, which was situated at the intersection of the childbirth portrait, the allegory of fertility or love and the genre painting. .

The motif underwent significant evolutions, particularly among painters from the Second School of Fontainebleau. Ladies in their prime, in their bath, at their mirror, portraits of mistresses of Henry IV (among which the famous Louvre painting, Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters) are, in a way, all daughters of the Nude Mona Lisa, a frame which allowed to develop time and time again a precious and polysemous aesthetic that the Renaissance highly valued.

By looking closely at Leonardo’s emblematic and forgotten artwork, the exhibition at the Domaine de Chantilly will pay homage to one of the master’s most enigmatic inventions, while displaying a true art history lesson dedicated to the development of a pictorial genre, between France and Italy during the Renaissance.



Mathieu Deldicque, Curator at the Condé museum

Vincent Delieuvin, Chief Curator of paintings at the Louvre

Guillaume Kazerouni, in charge of ancient art at the Rennes Fine Arts museum


Useful Informations

Location: The Jeu de Paume in the Domaine de Chantilly

Tickets and rates:

Exhibition included in the Domain ticket with no extra charge

Domain Ticket (château, grounds, great stables + exhibition): 17€ Full rate / 13,50€ Reduced rate
Book your ticket

Exhibition + Garden Ticket: 10€ Full rate/ 8€ Reduced rate
Book your ticket


Partner institutions : 



"Leonardo da Vinci's the last supper for Francis I, a masterpiece in gold and silk"
Château du Clos Lucé – parc Leonardo da Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci's residence
From 7 June to September 2, 2019
Museographic hall




"The death of Leonardo da Vinci – the construction of a myth"
Royal Castle of Amboise
Every day, from 2nd May to 2nd September 2019
Access to the exhibition included in the entrance fee to the castle.



 This exhibition benefits from the generous support of :







Dr. Susan E. Kendall in honor of Dona S. and Dwight M. Kendall, The Sackler Trust, Mrs. Barbara and Mr. Pascal Ravery, Lionel and Ariane Sauvage

The exhibition catalogue was made possible thanks to the support of Mr. Daniel Thierry.


Media partners :