Mona Lisa Looks So Enigmatic Because We Cleaned It Way Too Much
Today marks the 110th anniversary of when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. For a couple years there, it seemed like the painting would be lost from public view forever, but in the end, the theft did great things for the Mona Lisa. Right now, it's the most famous painting in the world. Before the theft? It wasn't well known at all or particularly popular, just one work stuck on the wall between two others.
Go see the Mona Lisa today, and you'll fight with crowds to stand directly in front for a couple seconds. In the end, you might doubt whether it's really the world's best painting, or whether it's even in the top ten best paintings in that room. But consensus says there is something very special about that face. For starters, she doesn't appear to have eyebrows or lashes. What's with that?
In 2007, an engineer named Pascal Cotte got a chance to digitally scan the painting in unprecedented detail, using all kinds of special color filters and other stuff we don't understand. He picked up evidence of how the painting used to look, and he concluded that the woman there totally used to have brows and lashes. He spotted enough tiny traces of them that they had to have existed at one point, but people cleaned the painting so much over the years that they rubbed away.
That's consistent with the writings of an old art historian from the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari, who mentioned eyebrows in his descriptions of the painting. Till now, we just assumed Vasari was making stuff up or drunk or something.
Cotte also dug up other details of the painting's hidden layers, claiming that originally, she was holding a blanket, smiling more widely and doing something or another with the fingers of her left hand. We don't know what the significance is of all that, but the man spent 3,000 hours analyzing his scans, so we're glad he found something.
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