Leonardo Da Vinci's 500-year-old Renaissance masterpiece has long been steeped in mystery, and even today the true identity of the woman with the alluring smile still far from certain
Scientists have discovered how the artist managed to achieve his trademark smoky effect, known as sfumato, on the painting; by applying up to 40 layers of extremely thin glaze thought to have been smeared on with his fingers.The glaze, mixed with subtly different pigments, creates the slight blurring and shadows around the mouth that give the Mona Lisa her barely noticeable smile that seems to disappear when looked at directly.Using X-rays to study the painting, the researchers were able to see how the layers of glaze and paint had been built up to varying levels on different areas of the face.the drying times for the glaze taking months, such effects would have taken years to achieve.The scientists also suspect that he used his fingers to apply the glaze to his paintings as there are no brush marks or contours visible on the paintings.
"Mona Lisa changes her expression depending on where you look at her face."
Austrian neurologists say analysis of the masterpiece shows her face appears to shift depending where a person focuses their gaze.If her eyes are stared at, it appears she has a subtle smile on her lips. But if the onlooker shifts their gaze to her mouth, then the smile disappears. Leonardo da Vinci had used clever techniques to trick the viewer.When seen directly, soft layers of shading around the mouth make the expression appear neutral. But when viewed in peripheral vision, the same brush strokes merge and give the impression of a subtle smile."In Mona Lisa's mouth, there is a smile hidden," he said. "When you look directly on the mouth, you see the fine details, the smile disappears and there is only a neutral expression.
By magnifying high resolution images of the Mona Lisa's eyes letters and numbers can be seen.
"To the naked eye the symbols are not visible but with a magnifying glass they can clearly be seen," said Silvano Vinceti, president of the Committee.In the right eye appear to be the letters LV which could well stand for his name Leonardo Da Vinci while in the left eye there are also symbols but they are not as defined.He said: "It is very difficult to make them out clearly but they appear to be the letters CE or it could be the letter B - you have to remember the picture is almost 500 years old so it is not as sharp and clear as when first painted.
The painting also featured in the Dan Brown blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, which was turned into a 2006 film starring Tom Hanks. His character interprets secret messages hidden in the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci's other works, including The Last Supper.
"It's remarkable that no-one has noticed these symbols before and from the preliminary investigations we have carried out we are confident they are not a mistake and were put there by the artist."
”Da Vinci put a special emphasis on the Mona Lisa and we know that in the last years of his life he took the painting with him everywhere - he didn’t like it to leave his side and carried it in a secure case.
”We also know that Da Vinci was very esoteric and used symbols in his work to give out messages and we have examined other paintings and have not found any similar numbers or letters.
”Painters we have spoken to have also said they are unlikely to have been put there by mistake so we are confident that they are a message from Da Vinci and were specifically inserted into the eyes by him.
”Painters we have spoken to have also said they are unlikely to have been put there by mistake so we are confident that they are a message from Da Vinci and were specifically inserted into the eyes by him.”What adds to the intrigue is that they are in the pupils, the darkest part of the eyes, so they would only be none by him - if he had wanted them to be more widely seen then he would have put them into the more visible white parts of the eyes.
Da Vinci started to paint it in 1503 or 1504 and finished it in 1519, shortly before his death, and after he had moved to France.
In August 1911 the painting was stolen by an Italian employee at the Louvre who felt that it should be returned to its native Italy and it was only returned two years later after being put on display widely across the country.
It suffered two vandal attacks in 1956 and since then has been behind bullet proof glass - which protected it from the last assault last year when a Russian woman angry at being refused French citizenship threw a tea mug at it which shattered as it hit the glass.