Mona Lisa Secrets You Aren't Aware Of
The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. Let's take a look into the art world and discover the controversies and conspiracies about it.Secrets
The Mona Lisa, with her enigmatic smirk and wandering gaze, is probably the most famous painting on the planet, but there’s more to this artwork than meets the eye. From subtle details to mind-blowing conspiracies, let's delve into some of the best-kept secrets about Da Vinci’s masterpiece.
Why Is the Mona Lisa So Famous?
Before we get to the crazy hidden secrets of the painting, let's find out why it's so famous. Leonardo Da Vinci created the painting between 1503 and 1507, but it wasn’t recognized as an outstanding example of Renaissance artwork until a scandal unfolded centuries later.
The painting was sold to the French King Francis I after Da Vinci’s death in 1519 and placed in the Louvre, where it still hangs today. In the summer of 1911, a young Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia, who was hired by the museum to make protective glass cases, slipped the painting under his smock and escaped unnoticed until officials realized the artwork was missing some 26 hours later.
He intended to return the painting to its Italian homeland, and the ensuing media frenzy lasted 28 months, concluding only when the Mona Lisa was finally apprehended and restored to the Louvre in 1913.
100,000 people showed up to view the painting in the first two days after its restoration, and nowadays over 8 million people visit it every day, but very few know just how much mystery this painting holds.
Mona Lisa Pregnancy
Almost anyone can recall the Mona Lisa from memory, with her head turned and arms crossed coyly, but some suggest there’s more to this iconic stance than you might think. Many have speculated that her delicately placed hands might be concealing the fact that she was actually pregnant.
Although the true identity of Da Vinci’s mysterious sitter is hotly debated, the most well-supported theory is that she was called Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo.
In 2006, Canadian scientists used detailed infrared scans to produce enhanced 3D images of the painting and speculated that there might actually be a bump beneath her dress. Although the colors of the painting have darkened over time, the scans also highlighted a gauzy transparent veil draped over her head and shoulders which was commonly worn by pregnant women during the Italian Renaissance.
This piece of clothing, known as a "guarnello", was previously thought to be a shawl or scarf, but a similar item can also be identified in Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of Smeralda Brandini which features a pregnant Renaissance woman. This also supports the Lisa del Giocondo theory, as Francesco (a friend of Leo’s father) probably commissioned the painting of his wife to celebrate the birth of their second son in 1503.
Mona Lisa Eyebrows
Not everyone agrees on Mona’s identity, and some speculators have been inclined to believe that the woman in the painting was definitely not of nobility, but rather a common prostitute. It all comes down to her hairiness; or, lack thereof, specifically around her face. Many have noted that Da Vinci’s historic beauty eerily lacks any eyebrows or even any visible eyelashes.
It turns out such a striking lack of facial hair was in fashion for prostitutes at the time. It was thought that a distinctly smooth appearance made their gaze more alluring, which could explain why people are still so enamored with her today. Believers in this theory have also highlighted the fact that her hair seemingly hangs loosely by her shoulders, which was certainly not the style for any classy Italian lady.
On the other hand, infrared analysis has since revealed that her tresses were probably partly pinned back into a chignon and covered with a veil, which was more customary for married women. So maybe she wasn’t a lady of the night, after all.
Second only to the debate about Mona’s smirk are questions about the glaring omission of eyebrows and lashes in Da Vinci’s masterpiece. This has troubled art critics for decades. Are we really to believe that Lisa del Giocondo, assuming this is her, was inexplicably browless?
In 2007, a French engineer and inventor named Pascal Cotte did some dedicated digging into the conundrum and made a pleasant discovery: the Mona Lisa did once have eyebrows! Cotte used a digital camera to take some HD shots of the painting and magnified them 24 times until he uncovered a single brush stroke above the left eye which he believes was once a minuscule hair.
This is an indication that Da Vinci did include these details in the painting, but that they have become obscured from the naked eye through gradual deterioration or even a shoddy restoration job.
Further proof can be found in Giorgio Vasari’s book Lives of Artists, written around the same time Leonardo was painting, which describes the Mona Lisa as having thick eyebrows. Either Vasari was just a very bad judge of art, or Da Vinci’s most famous painting is not what it once was.
One of the most left-field theories concerning the identity of the most famous woman in art is that she wasn’t a woman at all. In fact, a strong case has been made that the Mona Lisa could be a self-portrait, meaning this universal symbol of femininity might actually be a dragged-up Da Vinci.
The Mona Lisa has long been considered to be slightly androgynous looking, with a stronger nose and more pronounced forehead than we might expect. Some historians also believe that Da Vinci may have been a homosexual and that his love of riddles inspired him to depict himself as a woman.
Historian Lillian Schwartz used a digital analysis of the painting alongside a probable self-portrait of 60-year-old Da Vinci titled "Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk" to map out striking similarities between the two.
A team from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, spearheaded by anthropologist Giorgio Gruppioni, is also hoping to undertake an investigation that plans to dig up Leo’s skull before recreating his face using CSI-style 3D-rendering software.
Da Vinci’s remains were allegedly relocated in 1863 to the Chapel of Saint Hubert in Amboise, France, although this is simply the “presumed” location of the Renaissance master. However, the French authorities have not yet granted permission for Da Vinci’s remains to be exhumed, which means this particular theory remains unproven until the rights for proper DNA analysis can be acquired.
Male Lover Gian Giacomo Capriotti
Another theory by Art expert Silvano Vincenti suggests that the person in the painting could be an amalgamation of Lisa del Giocondo and Leo’s young apprentice and possible gay lover Gian Giacomo Capriotti. Capriotti was the model for some of Da Vinci’s other works including his painting of St John the Baptist, which does bear some similarities, some even suggesting he may have inspired the inscrutable smile.
The sitter in Leo’s masterpiece, whoever she or he is, probably has one of the most highly-scrutinized faces in history. In 2010 a Sicilian professor named Dr Vito Franco proposed what is possibly the least poetic explanation behind her mysterious visage: high cholesterol.
According to Dr Franco, who is a medical expert and Renaissance art examiner, the Mona Lisa exhibits the signs of xanthelasma, which is the accumulation of cholesterol under the skin.
He also noted that there may be evidence of a lipoma, or benign fatty-tissue tumor, around her right eye and on her dominant hand. This build-up of fatty acids can cause unusual swelling around the face and mouth, which could explain her ambiguous expression.
Science historian Luisa Dolza acknowledges that Renaissance painters like Da Vinci and Michelangelo studied anatomy and illnesses and had no reservations about depicting the ugly truth, so maybe Mona was secretly gorging on pies after all.
The Golden Ratio
Mysteries aside, what is it about this painting that sets it apart from thousands of other classic portraits? Some suggest that the reason we’re drawn to this particular artwork can be explained using a mathematical quandary known as the golden ratio.
In simple terms, this refers to a number (1:0.618) found when you divide a line in two, and the longer part divided by the smaller part is equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. This concept has been the guiding principle behind many pieces of ancient art and engineering including the Pyramids of Giza and the Mona Lisa herself.
Da Vinci was a known fan of this idea and even illustrated an entire book on what the writer Luca Pacioli referred to as The Divine Proportion in 1509. By separating the Mona Lisa into sections, critics claim you can find examples of the golden ratio all over the painting, including one around her face which means her expression is perfectly proportioned.
Professor Adrian Bejan from Duke University explains that the human eye is capable of interpreting an image featuring the ratio faster than any other, by scanning it horizontally in proportioned chunks. As it is said to represent beauty and imbalance, this concept might mathematically explain why so many people are still infatuated with the painting.
The Disappearing Smile
Multiple theories have attempted to explain the Mona Lisa’s captivating smirk, including one that Da Vinci was telling a joke during the painting, but many claim her smile isn’t as definite as we think.
Professor Margaret Livingstone has even proposed that the unnerving expression is neither a smile nor a grimace, it’s both, depending on how you look at it. She suggests that when we focus on her eyes or elsewhere in the painting, the smile appears more defined than if we actually focus on the mouth itself, which can seem slightly more demure.
This has to do with something called "low spatial frequencies" which is the way things snap into focus in our central vision but appear more blurred when viewed peripherally. The secret behind the smile is that it’s buried within a low special frequency, so it always seems more cheerful when you don’t view it directly.
Although such an understanding of human vision was still centuries away, Da Vinci still managed to manipulate our perception with the winning smile. In 2005, Dutch researchers also developed an emotion recognition software and ran the painting through it to discover the expression was officially classed as 83% happy.
A Toothless Smile
It seems like the Mona Lisa definitely had something to smile about, but there might be another reason why her grin is so low-key. In 1993, Maryland art expert and dentist Joseph Borowski studied Da Vinci’s painting and came up with a concerning proposal: poor Mona might have been toothless.
According to Borowski, she exhibits an expression typical of someone who has lost their front teeth, while he also highlighted visible scar tissue around her mouth which others have claimed is just a result of gradual paint deterioration.
New research from 2017 could support this theory, as authors Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti claim that Lisa Gherardini likely had a very unhappy marriage. They suggest Gherardini was shipped to Florence and forced to marry Francesco del Giocondo at age 15. Could this mean she might also have been a victim of domestic violence?
A slightly less extreme version of this toothless theory was put forward in 1999 by Dr Filippo Surano who diagnosed the subject with a health complaint called bruxism. This would’ve caused her to have a neurotic habit of teeth-grinding, which could explain the swelling around her mouth.
Da Vinci Code
In 2010, members of Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage completed a detailed analysis of the Mona Lisa and discovered a possible real-life Da Vinci code. The only problem is they still don’t know exactly what it means.
Silvano Vinceti revealed that there’s a collection of symbols hidden deep in the painting which are only visible when viewed with high-tech magnifying glasses. They include the initials LV in the right eye, a less-defined CE or letter B in the left eye, and either the number 72 or L and number 2 in the arch of the bridge in the background vista.
Besides the obvious assumption that LV is the artist's signature, the experts can’t be sure what any of the other symbols mean, other than that they are too coincidental to be microscopic cracks in the painting, as the Louvre officially responded.
Da Vinci was notoriously eccentric and a lover of numbers and symbols, and he placed special emphasis on the Mona Lisa even before it became famous, carrying it with him in a special case through the last years of his life. Who knows, maybe Da Vinci really is trying to communicate something from beyond the grave.
Hidden Portrait Found Under Mona Lisa
French Scientist Pascal Cotte shocked art critics in 2015 when he revealed his findings that the real Mona Lisa may have been hiding behind the famous masterpiece all along. Cotte spent 11 years analyzing the painting using a special technology called the Layer Application Method after he was granted access to it in 2004 and now claims to have discovered an entirely different secret portrait beneath.
The method works by projecting a series of intense lights onto the painting and taking detailed measurements of the reflections with camera equipment, which are then mapped out using special software. The painstaking reflective light technique allowed Cotte to see what was going on between the layers of the painting, and he digitally reconstructed a distinctly different Mona Lisa which he now claims to be the original.
Not everyone is so convinced though, and many art historians like Will Gompertz have explained that, although Cotte’s findings are impressive, they likely offer an insight into Da Vinci’s artistic process, rather than unmasking a completely new Lisa.