Crack the ‘Code’ at the Museum of Art

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Portland – Just in time for the release of the hotly anticipated film ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ the Portland Museum of Art will display its rarely seen Mona Lisa painting, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

The enigmatic work, officially titled “La Gioconda,” is thought to be either a preparatory study for the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo or a copy painted by one of his followers shortly after the creation of the original, which now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The painting will be on view beginning May 18 through the summer months.

The painting was given to the Portland Museum of Art in 1983 by Henry H. Reichhold, a summer resident of Prouts Neck, who purchased the work in the 1960s after the death of its European owner. Subsequently, “La Gioconda” was analyzed at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard University. Conservators determined that the painting was executed before 1510 – the original “Mona Lisa” was created between 1503 and 1507 – but they were unable to confirm or refute Leonardo’s hand in its creation.

However, similarities are remarkable, and the work contains the characteristics of a left-handed brushstroke, consistent with Leonardo’s work as a left-handed artist.

Unlike a forgery or counterfeit work, the museum’s “Mona Lisa,” on the basis of technical analyses, differs from the original in size, composition of background landscape, and, most notably, the absence of the enigmatic smile – details that suggest an early study rather than a simple reproduction.

The last time the painting was on view at the museum was in early 2004, when it was displayed in conjunction with the lecture “The Da Vinci Code Deciphered” by Renaissance scholar Dr. Jeannine O’Grody. O’Grody discussed the “real” story about Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork while highlighting the fact and fiction presented in Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel. More than 1,500 people attended the lecture.

The Portland Museum of Art, Maine’s largest art museum, is at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland. Hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday. Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the museum is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Beginning May 26, museum admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with I.D., $4 for youth ages 6 to 17, and children under 6 are free. The museum is free on Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call (207) 775-6148 or visit portlandmuseum.org.

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