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Modern Mysteries

Hidden portrait found beneath the Mona Lisa

By T.K. Randall
December 10, 2015 · Comment icon 19 comments

Is the original Mona Lisa buried beneath the image we see today ? Image Credit: Leonardo da Vinci
French scientist Pascal Cotte has suggested that Da Vinci's masterpiece may not be quite what it seems.
The Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile is an image that is familiar all around the world, yet below the aged brush strokes there may lie another picture entirely - one that has remained hidden for centuries.

Cotte has spent the better part of ten years studying every inch of the Mona Lisa using a variety of sophisticated techniques. One of these, which involves reflecting light waves off the canvas, has revealed that there may have been as many as four different images painted underneath.

One of these, which appears to be a different woman to the one in the painting, may actually be the real Mona Lisa - a woman by the name of Lisa Gherardini - thus opening up the possibility that the woman with the world-famous smile might not actually be her at all but someone else entirely.
Cotte maintains that there is no concrete way to determine how much time had passed between the addition of each layer meaning that the image of the figure underneath may have been put to canvas months or even years before the painting was completed.

Not everyone however agrees with his interpretations.

"A different outward appearance does not lead 100 percent into a hypothesis that these are two different persons," said researcher Claus-Christian Carbon. "I'm quite skeptical, because the minimal hypothesis is always the best I think, and that is just that [the portrait] was changed a bit."

Source: Live Science | Comments (19)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #10 Posted by Derek Willis 9 years ago
Did you notice how the experts refer to the artist as "Leonardo", and not the post-Da Vinci Code "Da Vinci"!
Comment icon #11 Posted by third_eye 9 years ago
Again, if I may go back to my experience with my mother. She was relatively poor, and art supplies are not cheap depending on the medium and substrate. As a young child (5-9 ?) I do recall her occasionally "re-purposing" the canvass of an oil painting she previously painted but did not like. Not sure what she did... I was so young. But I seem to recall her laying the painting flat, putting on some type of solution to break-up the dried oils, letting it sit for awhile, than literally scrapping then wiping it off. In most cases I could see a faint image of the previous painting. She would deal w... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by DieChecker 9 years ago
I`m with this: Will Gompertz, Arts Editor I'm sceptical. It's perfectly common for an artist to overpaint an image as it is for a client who's commissioned that artist to ask for changes. So it's not surprising that there are those underpaintings on the Mona Lisa. I agree it is very common for an artist to reuse a canvas. It also wouldn't be unsual for the artist to change the structure/angle of the subject and start over.
Comment icon #13 Posted by AustinHinton 9 years ago
So he started over, this isn't a new paradigm in art or anything.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Jessica Christ 9 years ago
What secret codes are in the weaving of the c canvas itself? Any? None? Well then is it OK to put some light make up and turn that smile down a bit.
Comment icon #15 Posted by heisenfgt 9 years ago
10 years well spent!
Comment icon #16 Posted by Silent Trinity 9 years ago
Interesting article, but back then wasn't the prohibitive cost of materials, particularly the canvas such that they re-used previous / failed paintings with new commissions to save money? If so it would be a rather anti-climactic end to this story lol.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Toad Uoff 8 years ago
I have a tv show that I DVR and there are 2 Mona Lisa paintings There are actually 3 versions that have been found so far. The Original in the Louvre, the Isleworth Mona Lisa, and the one in the El Prado Museum in Spain, which is the latest 'copy' found so far and it was found in 2012. There may be more ... .. . Ribbit
Comment icon #18 Posted by scocope 8 years ago
It appears he didn't like the first result (the nose was skinnier and more chiseled on the first one) and went back to fix it (and revised the eyes as well). Likely this type of revision was not unheard of in portrait painting as there really isn't a need for a new one if touch-ups can be done.
Comment icon #19 Posted by oldrover 8 years ago
No, this (the original in the article) is a silly theory. What he seems to be picking up on is the underpainting. Which is the foundation of oil painting of the period. It's applied in layers, which don't tend to correspond to the final image, because the density of paint is key to modelling the subject.  The image he claims is the original is terribly out of proportion, and implausible for someone with Leonardo's skill*. Compositionally, it's an absolutely glaring disaster and jars on the eye. As well as being anatomically unlikely. The reason why he's coming up with something that shape i... [More]

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