Earliest Mona Lisa copy claimed by Spanish museum

A copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa that was painted at the same time as the original in the same studio is displayed at the Prado Museum in Madrid Wednesday Feb. 1, 2012. Spain's Prado Museum says the copy it has of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was painted at the same time as the original perhaps making it the earliest replica of the masterpiece. A museum spokeswoman said the work was painted side by side with the 16th century original that hangs in the Louvre in Paris and was done by one of Leonard's key students. (AP Photo/Paul White)A copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa that was painted at the same time as the original in the same studio is displayed at the Prado Museum in Madrid Wednesday Feb. 1, 2012. Spain's Prado Museum says the copy it has of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was painted at the same time as the original perhaps making it the earliest replica of the masterpiece. A museum spokeswoman said the work was painted side by side with the 16th century original that hangs in the Louvre in Paris and was done by one of Leonard's key students. AP Photo/Paul White

MADRID - Spain's Prado Museum said Wednesday it has a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" that one of his students painted in the studio where the masterpiece was completed.

A museum spokeswoman said the copy was done alongside the 16th-century original, which now hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, apparently making it the earliest replica of the work ever found.

The Prado said it didn't realize the significance of its copy of the "Mona Lisa" until a recent restoration revealed hidden layers.

There are dozens of the surviving replicas of the masterpiece from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Madrid version shows the same woman figure, but prior to the restoration it lacked the landscape background and was covered with paint and varnish. The spokeswoman said the painting had once been on display in the museum but had always been considered a pretty poor copy.

She was speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with museum policy.

Museum director Miguel Zugaza was presenting the work at a news conference later Wednesday.

El Pais newspaper said the Louvre supports the Prado's new evaluation of the painting.

Calling the painting 'Mona Lisa's twin,' El Mundo newspaper cited museum officials as saying the Prado copy was better preserved in several areas than the original and would help with studies of the masterpiece.

The replica was restored as part of plans for it to be included in a Louvre exhibition on Leonardo later this year. The Prado plans to put it on display later this month before it travels to France.

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