Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Now, after taking a closer look at the beloved Renaissance masterpiece, researchers have found evidence that Leonardo da Vinci actually relied on a charcoal underdrawing to render the sitter’s mysterious features.
Scientist Pascal Cotte studied the Mona Lisa in 2004, when the Louvre asked him to digitize it with his high-resolution, multispectral Lumiere Technology camera. Colette then used the layer amplification method, which allows scientists to amplify weak infrared signals and reveal new details about paintings, to detect traces of the hidden underdrawing.
Ultimately, Colette captured more than 1,650 photographic scans and spent 15 years analyzing this data with Lionel Simonot, a physicist.
These discoveries increase the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s creation.
The new analysis suggests that Leonardo used a technique called spolvero, which enabled him to transfer sketches from paper to canvas using charcoal dust, to paint the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo likely created the Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1519, when he was living in Florence. Though the subject’s exact identity remains unclear, many art historians believe that she is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant. Others speculate that the Mona Lisa may be a more allegorical figure.
Art lovers around the world often call attention to the painting’s smoky, dream-like appearance. Leonardo accomplished this effect through a variety of painting techniques, including sfumato, or fine shading that creates seamless transitions between light and shadow.
The Mona Lisa is also known for her arresting stare. Her eyes seem to follow viewers as they move across a room. The spolvero marks indicate that Leonardo may have shifted his subject’s pose and made her stare more directly at the viewer.
Scholars suggested that Leonardo worked on the painting throughout his life, adding details as his artistic philosophy developed.