Why the Mona Lisa is REALLY Smiling

You would think after hundreds of years, there wouldn’t be anything left to discover regarding the Mona Lisa – quite possibly the most studied and storied woman in the world. Well think again.

Two years of pouring over every millimeter of Leonardo DaVinci’s most famous painting has led a research team from the Canadian National Research Center (CNRC) to come out with a startling conclusion: Mona Lisa – whose enigmatic smile has been interpreted in dozens of different ways – had recently given birth to a child. More on THAT little tidbit shortly.

More revealing perhaps is the new technology implemented in studying one of the most famous women in the world: a new technique of three-dimensional radiography used by the Canadian researchers – in the basement of the Louvre (come on, you don’t think the museum is going to ‘loan out” it’s most famous work, do you?) – has also shed new light on Leonardo’s method of painting, in addition to revealing exactly what it was he was attempting to put on canvas oh those many years ago.

Technically speaking, it’s not easy to study the Mona Lisa. This oil-on-wood masterpiece which measures 77 x 53 centimeters is jealously guarded by the museum and in fact is taken down and given a “check-up” only once a year. For the CNRC, the Louvre made an exception – allowing the team to take x-rays of the work on two separate occasions – both after hours – on the nights of 18 and 20 October 2004.

So it was that during two 8-hour sessions, the research led by John Taylor scanned and shot the Mona Lisa in every possible way. The new technology allows the x-rays to penetrate 10 micrometers in depth – roughly one-tenth the diameter of a human hair – to see what lay beneath the paint. Something that no machine has ever been able to do up until now. The findings were startling.

Taylor says that the radiography confirms that the Mona Lisa was painted directly on its wooden base and not on canvas. The image was not painted separately and then glued on after. The radiography also revealed that Leonardo carved the likeness of his subject into the wood first – allowing him a guide of sorts to follow as he painted. X-rays of the wood incisions reveal that Leonardo considered painting Mona Lisa first with her hair pulled up in a coffered bun, but apparently decided she looked better with her hair down.

And speaking of painting, this mega-detailed 3D radiography can hardly detect any discernable brush strokes. Remarks Taylor, “âÂ?¦Leonardo’s technique of applying paint is so subtle that you can’t even tell he was paintingâÂ?¦”

Maybe that’s why DaVinci was referred to as “the master.”

Regarding Mona’s suspected motherhood: an in-depth analysis of what Mona Lisa was wearing shows that she was decked out in a fine muslin veil. Rather than a choice of material to remain comfortable in while sitting for hours at time for Leonardo DaVinci, muslin is exactly the type of lightweight fabric chosen by a woman who either pregnant with child or one who had just given birth.

So there you have it: a slight smile in the knowledge that she was soon to or had recently given birth.

Or maybe she was just thrilled that could finally let her hair down.

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