Monday, October 22, 2007

Digital scans reveal Mona Lisa secrets

Matthew Weaver and agencies
Monday October 22, 2007

Pascal Cotte with a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
Pascal Cotte with a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The Mona Lisa's famously enigmatic smile was originally wider and more expressive, according to new scans of the painting.

Pascal Cotte, a French engineer, used a self-designed digital camera to uncover what he claimed were 25 secrets about Leonardo's da Vinci's portrait.

Mr Cotte said his 240-megapixel scans revealed traces of Mona Lisa's left eyebrow, obliterated by long-ago restoration efforts.

"The face of the Mona Lisa appears slightly wider and the smile is different and the eyes are different. The smile is more accentuated," Mr Cotte told the Live Science website.

He was invited by the Louvre museum in Paris to photograph the painting in 2004. The results were revealed at an exhibition at the Metreon Centre in San Francisco.

Speaking at the opening, Mr Cotte said: "With just one photo you go deeper into the construction of the painting and understand that Leonardo was a genius."

As a boy growing up in Paris in the 1960s, Mr Cotte said, he spent hours staring at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

He later used his expertise in light and optics to develop a camera that would let him examine the object of his obsession.

Mr Cotte estimated he had spent 3,000 hours analysing the data from the scans he made of the painting three years ago.

Other findings included: · Da Vinci changed his mind about the position of two fingers on the Mona Lisa's left hand; · the presence of a blanket that had all but faded from view; · lace on her dress; · "blotches" on her chin and an eye were varnished marks.

Mr Cotte said his analysis also revealed what he believed were the painting's colours as they had looked on Da Vinci's easel.

Age, varnish and restorations have resulted in a painting that now appears saturated with heavy greens, yellows and browns.

Using his camera, made with 13 different colour filters rather than the typical three or four found in consumer-grade digital cameras, Mr Cotte created a reproduction of the Mona Lisa with the light blues and brilliant whites he said represented the painting in its original form.

"For the next generation, we guarantee that forever you will have the true colour of this painting," Mr Cotte said.

Though some art historians have expressed scepticism about Mr Cotte's findings, he said he hoped his technique could be used as a guide for future restoration work on ageing art treasures around the world.

Mr Cotte was not the first to subject the Mona Lisa to detailed scans. Last year, another project revealed that her hair was originally gathered in a bun and that she was wearing a maternity dress.

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