The two faces of Mona Lisa: hidden portrait found beneath the masterpiece

A French scientists claims there’s another portrait etched beneath the Mona Lisa — one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Pascal Cotte was first allowed by the Louvre Museum to analyze the painting in 2004, since he convinced them that the work of art won’t be damaged or altered in any way. The technology he used, called Layer Amplification Method (LAM), is very new in the field. The device fires intense beams of photons, then a camera records the reflections of these beams that can permeate though the surface. Based on these measurements, Cotte was able to reconstruct how the various layers underneath the apparent surface of the painting looked like, as if da Vinci were there painting La Joconde again. “We can now analyse exactly what is happening inside the layers of the paint and we can peel like an onion all the layers of the painting. We can reconstruct all the chronology of the creation of the painting,” Cotte told the BBC.

Apparently, one onion peel suggests there’s a different portrayal of Mona Lisa  — different from the way we’ve come to know her, at least (though debatable, historians attribute her identity to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant). The analysis shows that there was no smile, the gaze is totally different, as was the outfit. These features were then painted over.

Mr. Cote, next to a digital reconstruction (left) of the different Mona Lisa portrait he found. Image: Brinkworth Films

Interestingly enough, Cotte has this theory which says that this earlier rendition was in fact the original Mona Lisa, a different person from the one we know today.

“The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.

“When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

If that’s true … well, I guess the Louvre can just throw away the museum label for the painting. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, isn’t that convinced. Instead, what we’re seeing, Kemp suggests, are simply the various stages a painting goes through until it reaches the artist’s last brush stroke.

“I do not think there are these discreet stages which represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa,” he told .

Cotte’s findings and other insights can be learned in the upcoming BBC 2 documentary, The Secrets of the Mona Lisa. It airs on BBC Two at 21:00 GMT on 9 December.

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