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The Mona Lisa Hides Three Portraits Underneath, Says French Scientist

The image on the left is a reconstruction of one of the Mona Lisa's hidden portraits, showing a different woman entirely than the one we know.

The image on the left is a reconstruction of one of the Mona Lisa’s “hidden” portraits, showing a different woman entirely than the one we know.

For 500 years, the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, has enchanted us. Her subtle smile, the product of complicated shadows and tricks of the light, makes her that much more interesting—like the woman who sat for the portrait was hiding a sneaky secret. As it turns out, she may be hiding a huge secret: three other portraits underneath her facade.

According to French scientist Pascal Cotte, three other portraits lay underneath the Mona Lisa, at least one of which may be a straightforward representation of Lisa del Giocondo, widely thought to be the subject of the Mona Lisa.

How does Cotte know what lies beneath the Mona Lisa? By projecting intense light onto the painting while measuring the reflections. This imagery technique helps expose what happened between each layer of paint, thus revealing at least one, if not three, additional portraits.

The “real” portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is lacking the Mona Lisa’s quizzical smile. Instead, she is shown looking off into the distance. She looks very different from the Lisa we know. If Cotte is correct, that means that the sitter for the Mona Lisa was an entirely different woman, and that we’ve all had her name wrong for centuries.

“When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today,” Cotte said. “This is not the same woman.”

The other two portraits Cotte claims to have found show a shadowy outline of a portrait with a larger head and nose, bigger hands, and smaller lips. The third, he claims, shows a Madonna-style image with etchings of a pearl headdress.

“My scientific imagery technique (L.A.M.) takes us into the heart of the paint-layers of the world’s most famous picture and reveals secrets that have remained hidden for 500 years,” Cotte said in a statement. “The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.”

Still, some are skeptical, most notably art historian Martin Kemp. He is reluctant to believe in the existence of a “hidden” portrait, even though he acknowledges Cotte’s techniques as “highly innovatory.” Instead, he believes that the “hidden portrait” may simply reflect the changes Da Vinci made over time:

“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 women into a philosophical and poetic picture that has a universal dimension.

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.”

However, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon believes this discovery is the real deal. He even filmed a BBC documentary about the discovery. “It’s jawdropping,” he said. “The Louvre are going to have to change their label.”

“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.”

Personally, I’ll have to wait and see what the hidden portraits look like, and will definitely want to catch that BBC doc.

Here’s a sneak peek at the documentary and the hidden portrait:

Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.

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