One of the world’s most mysterious paintings just got a bit more interesting. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been shrouded in mystique for centuries. There has been endless speculation of her smile, the landscape, the subject and even her eyebrows. Books, movies and documentaries have focused on her famed ambiguity. But now, her story adds, quite literally, another layer.For over a decade, French scientist Pascal Cotte has used a unique process to examine Mona Lisa. This technique, LAM, or Layer Amplification Method, involves shining strong lights at the painting and measuring the reflections to map the layers of paint beneath the surface. Recently, Cotte announced something groundbreaking – there is an entirely different painting hidden underneath the layers of paint that we see.
According to him, this portrait features a different, unsmiling female sitter looking off to the side instead of straight ahead. And Cotte makes a radical claim: this is the “real” Mona Lisa, dismantling everything we thought we knew about the painting…including its name.
Pascal Cotte’s findings have drawn criticism. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, is doubtful. He states, “I do not think there are these discrete 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.” Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, however, is much more optimistic about the discovery. He says it is absolutely “one of the stories of the century.” In regards to criticism, he argues “there will probably be some reluctance on the part of the authorities at the Louvre in changing the title of the painting because that’s what we’re talking about – it’s goodbye Mona Lisa, she is somebody else.”
What follows remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – Cotte’s research has, and will continue to completely shake up the art world.