the Mona Lisa, kept at the Louvre in Paris, has been copied many times. The most famous of these examples must be the Hekking Mona Lisa, named after its former owner, the antique dealer Raymond Hekking (1886-1977). It is expected to go on sale at Christie’s auction house in Paris and is conservatively estimated to sell for between € 200,000 and € 300,000 (£ 170.00 to £ 260,000)
This estimate will likely be exceeded. Earlier sales of these 17th century copies of the Mona Lisa reached up to US $ 1,695,000 (£ 1,195,000), as one version did in New York in March 2019. Another version sold in Paris in November 2019 for € 552,500 and a third version at Christie’s Paris the same year for 162,500 €.
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The 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death was celebrated in 2019 with several prestigious exhibitions, so the market for Leonardo images was arguably at its peak. However, the Mona Lisa, whether in the original or through its many copies, means money all the time.
Among the many versions of the painting, few copies have a more fascinating history than Mona Lisa Hekking. It offers brilliant insight into the evolution of attitudes over the centuries towards the perceived value of originality versus imitation.
None of Leonardo’s works is more desirable than the Mona Lisa, which arguably became the subject of the most infamous art heist of the 20th century. In August 1911, Vincenzo Perugia, employee of the Louvre, steals the Mona Lisa. The painting disappeared for two years before its recovery in Florence and its eventual return to the Louvre in 1913 after a triumphant tour of Italian museums.
Theft made papers all over the world and contributed exponentially to the fame of the painting.
In January 1963, amid much international attention, the Mona Lisa traveled to the United States and received great acclaim in Washington DC and New York. First Lady Jackie Kennedy had negotiated the deal in 1961 and media attention on the Mona Lisa on the approach of his tour of America reached a climax.
It was in the midst of this that Raymond Hekking made the sensational statement that the Mona Lisa that the Louvre was preparing to send to America was not the original – but his was.
Hekking acquired his version of the Mona Lisa in the late 1950s at an art dealer in Nice, France, for around £ 3. He argued that the copy returned to the Louvre in 1913 was just another contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa.
Hekking proved to be a genius communicator and mounted a surprisingly large media campaign to get his Mona Lisa recognized as “THE” Mona Lisa. He urged the media to scrutinize his copy and even produced a film to back up his claim.
Hekking’s attempts to authenticate his version as the “real” Mona Lisa have since been refuted. His painting has been definitively dated to the beginning of the 17th century and attributed to an anonymous “Italian disciple of Leonardo”.
All of this begs the question of where the value of an image lies anyway.
For collectors of the early modern period (circa 1500-1800), the value of an artefact did not necessarily lie in the fact that the artist made the image himself. On the contrary, they appreciated having a copy of an iconic image.
It is important to remember that historically there were fewer images and they were less easily accessible. Viewing a work of art may have required a trip to where it was kept, and access to the image may have depended on the permission of the owner. The very ownership of a copy of a coveted image signified status and privilege and bestowed significant cultural kudos on the collector.
Many artifacts were produced in workshops with the help of multiple assistants (as opposed to a single artist) but that didn’t matter. It is very useful to think of these workshops the same way we would think of a designer studio today. The works from this workshop bear the artist’s mark but were not necessarily designed, created or executed by the hand of the master.
And yet it is worth being associated with the brand because the imprint and association with the artist is what matters and what gives value to the owner of the artefact. This is especially the case when creating multiples involved copying by hand, producing versions each unique in itself.
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But now we live in a time when we can all see any work of art reproduced online or through techniques like photography, screen printing or engraving, does this diminish the value of a? copy or reproduction?
The German philosopher Walter Benjamin was the first to attempt to disentangle these debates. In his article The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Benjamin pointed out that an original work of art possesses an irreproachable and inimitable “aura” of uniqueness, which is not present in a mechanical reproduction and therefore reduces its value.
But he also stressed that any work of art has an “artistic authenticity” which makes it important because it reflects the intentions of the patron who wanted to own the image and the role of the artist who made it. request of this patron. In other words, what Benjamin is describing here is why a work like Hekking Mona Lisa is so important. It has a history of its own which gives it value.
The Hekking Mona Lisa is more than just a copy of Leonardo. The Mona Lisa Hekking is not a mechanical reproduction but an authentic 17th century copy of an iconic image, and it has cultural authority and stories of its own. If there’s ever been an image that invites debates about the value of copies and thoughts about authenticity, well, they’re encapsulated by Hekking Mona Lisa. And that will undoubtedly be reflected in the price that this image will fetch at auction.