Every year, about 6 million people visit the Musée du Louvre in Paris to see Leonardo Da Vinci's famous portrait, Mona Lisa. An oil painting on poplar wood, the portrait was started by Da Vinci in 1503 and took about four years to complete, although he is believed to have continued working on it even after that. For centuries afterward, his talent and ingenuity sparked many debates and a multitude of theories in an effort to uncover the mysteries behind the Mona Lisa. The two biggest mysteries are her identity and the nature of her smile.
WHO IS MONA LISA…
Many questions arose over the years as to the true identity of the woman in the portrait. The Italians call her La Gioconda, which means "the lighthearted woman." The French version, La Joconde, carries a similar meaning, provoking many thoughts and theories about the Mona Lisa. Most experts now believe that she is Lisa del Giocondo, the third wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo.
The title Mona Lisa is discussed in Da Vinci's biography, written and published by Giorgio Vasari in 1550. Vasari identified Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting and pointed out that mona is commonly used in place of the Italian word madonna, which could be translated into English as "madam." Hence, the title Mona Lisa simply means "Madam Lisa." In addition, a note written by an Italian government clerk named Agostino Vespucci in 1503 identified Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting.
Still, some experts believe that Lisa del Giocondo actually was the subject of another painting, leaving the identity of the woman in Mona Lisa in question. One popular theory suggests that she is the Duchess of Milan, Isabella of Aragon. Da Vinci was the family painter for the Duke of Milan for 11 years and could very well have painted the Duchess as the Mona Lisa.
Other researchers have stated that the painting could depict a mistress of Giuliano de' Medici, who reigned in Florence from 1512 to 1516, or various other women. A more recent thought is that it is the feminine version of Da Vinci himself. Digital analysis has revealed that Da Vinci's facial characteristics and those of the woman in the painting are almost perfectly aligned with one another.
REAL MONA LISA’S IDENTITY CONFIRMED…
A researcher has uncovered evidence that apparently confirms the identity of the woman behind the Mona Lisa's iconic smile, Germany's University of Heidelberg says.
She is Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo, according to book-margin notes written by a friend of Leonardo da Vinci while the artist worked on the masterpiece, the school said in a statement Monday.
The discovery by a Heidelberg University library manuscript expert appears to confirm what has long been suspected.
The Mona Lisa is known as "La Gioconda" in Italian.
HOW DOES MONA LISA SMILE…
The enigmatic smile of the woman in the painting has been the source of inspiration for many and a cause for desperation in others. In 1852, Luc Maspero, a French artist, jumped four floors to his death from a hotel room in Paris. His suicide note explained that he preferred death after years of struggling to understand the mystery behind the woman's smile.
When discussing the mystery behind the smile, art experts often refer to a painting technique called sfumato, which was developed by Da Vinci. In Italian, sfumato means "vanished" or "smoky," implying that the portrait is ambiguous and blurry, leaving its interpretation to the viewer's imagination. This technique uses a subtle blend of tones and colors to produce the illusion of form, depth and volume.
The human eye consists of two regions: the fovea, or central area, and the surrounding peripheral area. The fovea recognizes details and colors and reads fine print, and the peripheral area identifies motion, shadows and black and white. When a person looks at the painting, the fovea focuses on her eyes, leaving the peripheral area on her mouth. Peripheral vision is less accurate and does not pick up details, so the shadows in her cheekbones augment the curvature of her smile.
When the viewer looks directly at the woman's mouth, however, the fovea does not pick up the shadows, and the portrait no longer appears to be smiling. Therefore, the appearance and disappearance of her smile really is an attribute of viewers' vision. This is one of the reasons why the painting has remained an enigma to art enthusiasts and perhaps the most famous painting in the world.
MONA LISA SMILE CREATED USING ‘TRICK’…
The Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile was created by a special painting technique which tricks the eye into thinking the expression is changing, a study has claimed.
Austrian neurologists say analysis of the masterpiece shows her face appears to shift depending where a person focuses their gaze.
If her eyes are stared at, it appears she has a subtle smile on her lips. But if the onlooker shifts their gaze to her mouth, then the smile disappears.
Professor Florian Hutzler, a psychology expert at the Centre for Neurocognitive Research in Salzburg, said Leonardo da Vinci had used clever techniques to trick the viewer.
When seen directly, soft layers of shading around the mouth make the expression appear neutral. But when viewed in peripheral vision, the same brush strokes merge and give the impression of a subtle smile.
"In Mona Lisa's mouth, there is a smile hidden," he said. "When you look directly on the mouth, you see the fine details, the smile disappears and there is only a neutral expression.
"Mona Lisa changes her expression depending on where you look at her face."
According to the new study published in the respected journal Psychological Science, Leonardo was able to accomplish the illusion using the "sfumato" technique in which layers of paint are added on top of each another to create subtle changes in shading.
Professor Stephen Porter, a psychology expert at the University of British Columbia, said the study had implications for how people process facial expressions beyond the Mona Lisa.
He said: "The most significant finding of this elegant, brilliant study was that people pick up on, and are influenced by, subtle information from another person's face at a subliminal level.
"It shows that we quickly analyse faces holistically but are not aware of this process. Our assessments of trustworthiness and attractiveness are affected in powerful ways by very subtle factors."
THE SECRET BEHIND MONA LISA’S SMILE…
The secret of how Leonardo da Vinci produced the optical effects that created the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile can be revealed for the first time.
The glaze, mixed with subtly different pigments, creates the slight blurring and shadows around the mouth that give the Mona Lisa her barely noticeable smile that seems to disappear when looked at directly.
Using X-rays to study the painting, the researchers were able to see how the layers of glaze and paint had been built up to varying levels on different areas of the face.
With the drying times for the glaze taking months, such effects would have taken years to achieve.
The scientists also suspect that he used his fingers to apply the glaze to his paintings as there are no brush marks or contours visible on the paintings.
Leonardo da Vinci is known to have employed the sfumato effect to seamlessly blend shading together and to blur outlines. But the exact techniques used to achieve this have long fascinated and intrigued art experts.
The new discoveries have been made by scientists at Laboratoire du Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musees de France and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
Writing in the scientific journal Angewandle Chemie, Dr Philippe Walter, who led the study, said: "The perfection of Leonardo da Vinci's painting technique has always been fascinating.
"The gradation of tones or colours from light to dark is barely perceptible. Above all, the way the flesh is rendered gives rise to many comments because of its crucial role in the fascination exerted by Leonardo's portraits.
"The thinness of the glaze layers must be underlined: it confirms the dexterity of the painter to apply such thin layers. Moreover, the measured slow and regular evolution of the thickness of the glaze layers implies that numerous layers... have to be applied to obtain the darkest shadows.
"Even today, Leonardo's realisation of such thin layers still remains an amazing feat."
The scientists used a technique known as x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to study the painting as it allowed them to examine the layers of glaze and paint in detail without having to take samples that would damage the masterpiece.
A beam of high energy X-rays were focused on the painting which allowed the researchers to determine how the layers of glaze and paint had been built up while also giving them information about their composition.
As well as the Mona Lisa, the team also studied skin tones in six other of Leonardo's most famous paintings, including Virgin of the Rocks, Madonna of the Carnation, Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin and the Child
They found that each layer of glaze was around just two micrometers, around 50 times thinner than a human hair. In the lightest areas of the skin, the glaze was found to be very thin but in the darkest areas it had been built up layer upon layer to be up to 55 micrometers thick.
Grains of black and red pigment were also found in the glaze, but were so small that they would be impossible to detect using conventional analysis techniques.
Dr Walter and his team believe that Leonardo experimented by creating different types of glaze and with different pigments to perfect the sfumato effect.
Professor Francis Ames-Lewis, a distinguished art historian and vice-president of the Leonardo da Vinci Society, an organisation devoted to the scholarly study of the Italian painter's work, said: "Leonardo da Vinci was concerned with producing smooth tonal gradients from light to dark without any perceptible change like we see in real life and sfumato was essential to this.
"What is extraordinary is the meticulous way he carried this out and the precision of his technique. In the Mona Lisa, he captures a complex and ambiguous personality and conveys it with the help of sfumato."
Mona Lisa painting 'contains hidden code'…
Art historians are probing a real life Da Vinci Code style mystery after discovering tiny numbers and letters painted into the eyes of the artist's enigmatic Mona Lisa painting.
Leonardo da Vinci, 500-year-old Renaissance masterpiece has long been steeped in mystery, and even today the true identity of the woman with the alluring smile still far from certain.
Now members of Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage have revealed that by magnifying high resolution images of the Mona Lisa's eyes letters and numbers can be seen.
"To the naked eye the symbols are not visible but with a magnifying glass they can clearly be seen," said Silvano Vinceti, president of the Committee.
In the right eye appear to be the letters LV which could well stand for his name Leonardo Da Vinci while in the left eye there are also symbols but they are not as defined.
He said: "It is very difficult to make them out clearly but they appear to be the letters CE or it could be the letter B - you have to remember the picture is almost 500 years old so it is not as sharp and clear as when first painted.
"While in the arch of the bridge in the background the number 72 can be seen, or it could be an L and the number 2."
The painting also featured in the Dan Brown blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, which was turned into a 2006 film starring Tom Hanks. His character interprets secret messages hidden in the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci's other works, including The Last Supper.
Mr Vinceti, who has travelled to Paris to examine the painting in the Louvre gallery where it is on display, explained that in true Dan Brown style they were put onto the mystery after fellow committee member Luigi Borgia discovered a musty book in an antique shop.
The 50 year old volume describes how the Mona Lisa's eyes are full of various signs and symbols and he added: "We are only at the start of this investigation and we hope to be able to dig deeper into this mystery and reveal further details as soon as possible.
"It's remarkable that no-one has noticed these symbols before and from the preliminary investigations we have carried out we are confident they are not a mistake and were put there by the artist."
Mr Vinceti is part of the group asking French authorities for permission to exhume Da Vinci's remains from his tomb at Amboise Castle in the Loire Valley.
They want to see if the artist's skull is there so that they can try and recreate his face and establish if the Mona Lisa is a self portrait of the artist, as many people believe.
Some historians believe that Da Vinci was homosexual and that his love of riddles led him to paint himself as a woman.
Another theory is that the Mona Lisa is Lisa Gheradini, the wife of Florence merchant - or possibly even the artist's mother.
Six months ago Mr Vinceti also made headlines around the world after discovering the bones of Renaissance wild man artist Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio, in a long forgotten crypt at Porto Ercole on Italy's Tuscan coast.
Mr Vinceti added: ”Da Vinci put a special emphasis on the Mona Lisa and we know that in the last years of his life he took the painting with him everywhere - he didn’t like it to leave his side and carried it in a secure case.
”We also know that Da Vinci was very esoteric and used symbols in his work to give out messages and we have examined other paintings and have not found any similar numbers or letters.
”Painters we have spoken to have also said they are unlikely to have been put there by mistake so we are confident that they are a message from Da Vinci and were specifically inserted into the eyes by him.
”What adds to the intrigue is that they are in the pupils, the darkest part of the eyes, so they would only be none by him - if he had wanted them to be more widely seen then he would have put them into the more visible white parts of the eyes.
”The question now is what to they mean - we are fairly confident that the LV is probably his signature but the other numbers and letters? Who knows they may even possibly be a love message to the figure in the painting.”
The Mona Lisa is an oil on panel painting owned by the French government and is known in Italy, where it was painted, as La Gioconda. The image is so widely recognised and caricatured that it is considered the most famous painting in the world.
Da Vinci started to paint it in 1503 or 1504 and finished it in 1519, shortly before his death, and after he had moved to France.
In August 1911 the painting was stolen by an Italian employee at the Louvre who felt that it should be returned to its native Italy and it was only returned two years later after being put on display widely across the country.
It suffered two vandal attacks in 1956 and since then has been behind bullet proof glass - which protected it from the last assault last year when a Russian woman angry at being refused French citizenship threw a tea mug at it which shattered as it hit the glass.
MONA LISA’S SKELETON FOUND…
FLORENCE, (AFP) - Archaeologists on Tuesday unearthed a skeleton in a rare state of preservation in Florence in what they believe may be a crucial step towards unravelling the mystery of the identity of the woman with the most enigmatic smile in the world.
Several bodies have been discovered in the hunt to find the mortal remains of Lisa Gherardini, the Florentine noblewoman widely believed to have served as the muse for Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa".
Silvano Vinceti, who heads up the team of Italian archaeologists, said this latest discovery in an abandoned convent was particularly exciting -- though tests would still have to be carried out to ascertain the identity of the remains.
"I'd say that we've got to the really exciting part for researchers," said Vinceti, who specialise in resolving art mysteries.
"The culmination of all our work where we're getting close to answering the key question, 'will we or will we not find Lisa Gherardini's remains?'."
"Today we opened another tomb, with a complete skeleton which is very important because in the first phase of the research we did not find human remains, they had been moved to another location," he said.
The team began digging up the convent's new cement floor last year, after fresh documents confirmed that Gherardini, the wife of rich Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, had lived in the convent after her husband died and was looked after by her two daughters who were nuns.
She was eventually interred there.
Del Giocondo is thought to have commissioned the portrait from the Renaissance artist, and though there is little proof, most art historians agree that Lisa Gherardini served as the primary model for the bewitching painting.
It was composed between 1503 and 1506 and now hangs in the Louvre museum in Paris.
Although the researchers had previously discovered bits of bones and two sets of remains in the convent, the latest skeleton to be unearthed is the best preserved, crucially, with the skull intact.
It also lies close to the tiny nunnery's Franciscan altar, thereby placing the grave in the right historic period.
But as with the previous remains, this skeleton may also prove to be unrelated. In that case, new digs will begin in September, to unearth other bodies the researchers believe lie on the other side of the alter, in a larger grave.
The next step for now is to send the latest remains off for a series of tests to confirm they belong to Gherardini. The team then hopes to reconstruct her face and compare it with the facial features in the painting.
"Carbon-14 dating allows us to date the period, and we have to find out whether the remains date to the middle of the 16th century.
"We will then do tests to prove the age of the person when they died: we know Gherardini died between the age of 62 and 63," said Vinceti, who is also chairman of the Italian national committee for cultural heritage.
"Then comes the biggest test, the DNA, because we have the mortal remains of her children... and if it corresponds, we'll know these remains belong to Mona Lisa's model," he said.
If her identity is confirmed, the researchers will begin the two-month process of reconstructing the skeleton's face.
The true identity of "Mona Lisa" and her smile have intrigued art lovers around the world for centuries, and the archaeologists working on the digs say it is incredible to be this close to revealing one of the world's best kept secrets.
"It's a great feeling, particularly because here we're working on a really well-known character -- an icon.
"It's a fantastic sensation to know I'm working on something which will go down in history," said Giovanni Roncaglia, one of the team's assistant archaeologists.
Vinceti has studied the portrait for years and recently claimed to have found symbols hidden in the portrait.
He believes that the Florence-born Renaissance artist's male apprentice and possible lover Salai was one of the inspirations for the picture, but that Gherardini is the main star.
With this latest discovery, the art detective hopes to finally have uncovered the truth.
MONA LISA’S SKELETON…
PLACE WHERE MONA LISA SKELETON FOUND…
MONA LISA TWIN PAINTING FOUND…
The Mona Lisa is one of the most enigmatic and iconic pieces of Western art. It has inspired countless copies, but one replica at the Madrid's Museo del Prado is generating its own buzz: Conservators say that it was painted at the same time as the original — and possibly by one of the master's pupils, perhaps even a lover.
Juxtaposing the two paintings — and using infrared technology, which works like an X-ray, allowing one to see beneath the paint to see previous, obscured versions — conservators say that Leonardo and the painter of the replica made exactly the same changes at the same time.
"The changes mirrored the changes which Leonardo made on the original," Martin Bailey, correspondent with The Art Newspaper in London, tells NPR's Melissa Block. "[Conservators] concluded that the two pictures had been done side by side in the studio, and it was probably on easels which were two or three yards away from each other."
The copy brings da Vinci's studio to life — and stirs up questions. Who was this mystery painter? According to Bailey, the artist is likely to have been one of Leonardo's main assistants: Melzi or Salai (who was rumored to have been da Vinci's lover).
Side by side, the pictures look noticeably different: The copy is significantly brighter and more colorful; even Mona Lisa's famously coy smile takes on a new cast.
"The original Mona Lisa in the Louvre is difficult to see — it's covered with layers of varnish, which has darkened over the decades and the centuries, and even cracked," Bailey says. "What is wonderful about the copy is how vivid it is, and you see Lisa in a quite different light. I thought her eyes are enticing. And you see her enigmatic smile in a way that you don't quite get in the original."
Bailey says the find will be relevant to historians and laypeople, in that paradoxically, a copy might bring viewers to the original with fresh eyes.
"It is, after all, the world's most famous painting, but people don't look at it fresh," he says. "They look at it almost as an icon. If you go to the Louvre, people aren't actually really looking at the painting; they just want to be in the same room with it. For me, the beauty of the copy is that it actually makes us look at the painting as a painting, and I hope it will have that effect on other people, too."
MONA LISA’S REAL PAINTING…
MONA LISA’S TWIN PAINTING…