The Mona Lisa has long been considered a masterpiece of the world. But like any artist, Leonardo DaVinci made some adjustments to our beloved lady before she was finally finished. The use of different wavelengths of light, including ultraviolet and infrared, allow us to see past what our naked eye can see—and past what time has stripped away.
French engineer Pascal Cotte and his team were able to develop this method, and in 2007 it went on display in San Francisco. Looking through layers of paint, we can see a Mona Lisa far different than the one we know today. Her face is slightly wider, and the smile and eyes are different from the finalized version. Cotte also discovered evidence that she once had eyebrows as well.
Earlier layers also show that Mona Lisa had a blanket draped across her lap, which her right arm holds up. We can even look through all the layers of paint to see preliminary sketches—some of which differ from the final version.
Her dress also had lace on it at one point. Her fingers changed positions as well. Cotte’s techniques even allow us to see the repairs to the painting made in the 1950s after it had a rock thrown at it. We can see varnish mistakes that contributed to her final outcome, such as those near her eye and chin.
Using such technology to look under the surface of paintings makes it feel like we’re somehow gaining insight into that artist’s or subject’s life. We can see what they saw long ago—the things that time has changed.
*This piece was originally published on November 9th, 2012