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Modern Mysteries

Is the Mona Lisa's expression happy or sad ?

By T.K. Randall
March 13, 2017 · Comment icon 14 comments



Is the Mona Lisa happy or sad ? Image Credit: Leonardo da Vinci
One of the art world's most hotly debated mysteries may have finally been solved after 500 years.
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting of all time - it's subtle smile and captivating pose delighting generations of art lovers for the better part of five centuries. Exactly what emotion the painting's subject is expressing however has long remained something of an enigma.

Now though, researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany believe that they may have finally found the answer thanks to a new study that involved digitally manipulating the original painting.

Twelve volunteers were each shown a series of black and white photographs of the Mona Lisa. All but one of these had been manipulated to make her appear either happier or sadder.
For each image, the participants were asked to determine what the painting's expression was.

The findings revealed that, after shuffling the images and showing them to each participant thirty times, the real image of the Mona Lisa was deemed "happy" an impressive 97% of the time.

"We really were astonished," said neuroscientist Juergen Kornmeier. "Given the descriptions from art and art history, we thought that the original would be the most ambiguous."

Source: Independent | Comments (14)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by kartikg 6 years ago
pardon my ignorance, can someone please tell me what is enigmatic about the painting, I ve watched a few short video of it but I am not finding anything exciting about it or the smile. Has anyone conducted any experiment where the subjects were not aware of the painting and shown and recorded their opinion?
Comment icon #6 Posted by quiXilver 6 years ago
The painting is full of sacred geometry and symbolic information. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by Silent Trinity 6 years ago
Well I live with my wife and standing face to face with her I can never tell what her mood is most of the time, the eternal problem of men trying to understand women.....so to try and decipher an expression from an old enigmatic painting will be a difficult task I fear.... lol
Comment icon #8 Posted by Frank Merton 6 years ago
I suspect men could learn a lesson from that and not be so transparent.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Susanc241 6 years ago
What we see is what was painted and not necessarily the expression on the face of the sitter, i.e. the artists interpretation of what he saw, or the effect he wanted to create. Over analysing artwork, however good or bad does nothing for anybody, IMO. You either like it or you don't.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Yamato 6 years ago
The right side of her face (viewers' perspective) looks a bit happier than the left side.  Overall she looks happy.  The smile must be forced to an extent, posing for a portrait.    It's pretty common to see even smiling people with lips that point downwards at the ends in a "sad" direction.  It's common to see people who don't look like they're happy with happy-curved lips (Winston Churchill above for example).   Mona's smile is obvious though and a smile denotes happiness, so I'm not exactly astonished at the results.  Content would be a more accurate deion but if the choices are happy or sa... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by skliss 6 years ago
If smug or secretive were on the list I would have chosen one of those over "happy".
Comment icon #12 Posted by paperdyer 6 years ago
Does it really matter whether she was happy or sad?  How do we know DaVInci didn't take some "liberties" with his interpretation of her face or expression?  Don't we have anything better to do than to waste time on a subject that doesn't matter one way or the other?
Comment icon #13 Posted by Dyna 6 years ago
She is looking seductive but trying not to for the paining. He feelings however are engaged toward the artists.
Comment icon #14 Posted by oldrover 6 years ago
When Leonardo left for France toward the end of his life he took the painting with him. The man who commissioned it never actually got it by the way. Old Leo was a bit dodgy when it came to coming through on his orders. So it's likely he was fiddling away with it for a period of years after he last saw the sitter's face.  The painting is more a reflection of his artistic vision than a portrait, as I say it's very similar to the rest of his late work. 


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