How A Parisian Engineer Revealed The Mona Lisa’s 500-Year Old Secrets

The Mona Lisa is arguably the most iconic and well-known piece of art in the world.

In December of 1962, just before the painting began a tour of the United States, The Louvre (the French Museum that serves as the painting’s permanent home) had an insurance assessment done on the painting: it was valued at a whopping $100 million.

In today’s dollars (accounting for inflation), that’s around $780 million. Take into account that the painting has only been increasing in popularity over the past 50 years and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say its current value is closer to a billion dollars.

The Mona Lisa (shown here at its home in The Louvre) is actually rather small, measuring only 30 inches in height and 21 inches in width. Click to enlarge (Photo: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Da Vinci was a master of subtleties. One of the reasons that the Mona Lisa is so famous is the mystery behind the mischievous grin she wears.

That mystery remains unsolved, but the mystery of the Mona Lisa‘s lack of eyebrows was unraveled back in 2007 by a Parisian engineer named Pascal Cotte.

Cotte spent 3,000 hours closely examining the painting, using multispectral 240-megapixel digital scans to capture each layer in detail. These scans allowed Cotte to look back into the painting’s past by revealing the layers underneath the nearly 500 years of restoration work that have been done on the painting.

Pascal Cotte poses with the 3-D replica he made of the painting. Click to enlarge

From those scans, Cotte concluded that the Mona Lisa used to have both eyebrows and eyelashes, saying,

“If you look closely at Mona Lisa‘s eye you can clearly see that the cracks around the eye have slightly disappeared, and that may be explained that one day a curator or restorer cleaned the eye, and cleaning the eye removed, probably removed the eyelashes and eyebrow.”


Cotte’s scans also revealed some other cool secrets about the painting. Many people don’t know that Da Vinci spent more than ten years on the Mona Lisa. He started the painting sometime between 1503 and 1506, and was still working on it when he died in 1517.

Cotte found that the Da Vinci’s original version of the Mona Lisa had a slightly wider face and a more expressive smile than the version he left behind upon his death in 1517. In addition, he discovered that Da Vinci had changed the position of two of her fingers.

The scans also allowed Cotte to digitally remove the heavy coat of varnish that protects the painting, revealing its true original colors:

Cotte's scans also revealed the Mona Lisa's original true colors. Click to enlarge

Current coloration on the left, original coloration on the right. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of Pascal Cotte)

These discoveries give even more meaning to Da Vinci’s famous quote:

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”


Read the original story from The Telegraph here.


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