For some time scientists have argued that beneath the surface of the world’s most famous painting hides evidence of multiple portraits and clues to the picture’s construction. French scientist Pascal Cotte believes he’s just found proof, but has he simply deepened the portrait’s mystery?
Ever since Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was stolen in 1911 — and indeed since its execution more than 500 years ago — the painting has captivated the hearts and minds of millions for the subject’s enigmatic features — including her ambiguous smile and contradictory background. For the past hundred years, scientists have continually used the latest technology and multifarious approaches in an attempt to better understand the painting’s nuances and construction. However, it seems that every time a new “discovery” is made, Mona’s allure and mystery only deepens.
French scientist Pascal Cotte is now arguing that his latest scans of the portrait will “shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.” Using cutting-edge Layer Amplification Methods (L.A.M.), Pascal recently suggested that he has definitively discovered the presence of three hidden paintings beneath the surface of the “Mona Lisa,” one of which likely represents Lisa del Giocondo (Lisa Gherardini) — the woman many believe is the portrait’s subject. By projecting specific and intense lights upon the work, computers can detect subtle changes in the layers of paint, revealing each stage of the painting’s construction.
Despite the apparent revelation, the scans can only  tell scholars about what we cannot see rather than what we can with our own eyes. Reception to Cotte’s reports has been varied. Renowned art historian Martin Kemp has been skeptical, arguing that trying to analyze subtle changes in the process of construction and layering is — in itself — flawed. Kemp writes, “There are considerable changes during the course of the making of the portrait — as is the case with most of Leonardo’s paintings. I prefer to see a fluid evolution from a relatively straightforward portrait of a Florentine woman into a philosophical and poetic picture that has a universal dimension.”
One thing is for certain: neither this nor any future discovery will succeed in quenching both academia’s and the public’s thirst to deconstruct the painting further and look for something more behind Mona Lisa’s face.
To learn more, visit CNN.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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