Researchers using three-dimensional technology to study the Mona Lisa say the woman depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's 16th-century masterpiece was either pregnant or had recently given birth when she sat for the painting.
"Thanks to laser scanning, we were able to uncover the very fine gauze veil Mona Lisa was wearing on her dress. This was something typical for either soon-to-be or new mothers at the time," Michel Menu, research director of the French Museums' Center for Research and Restoration, said Wednesday on LCI television.
Menu said a number of art historians had suggested that she was pregnant or had just given birth.
Researchers have established that the picture was of Lisa Gherardini, wife of obscure Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocond, and that da Vinci started painting it in 1503.
The name Mona Lisa is the equivalent of "Madame Lisa." La Joconde, as the painting is referred to in many countries, is the French version of her married name.
The research by French and Canadian scientists using three-dimensional scanning technology began in 2004.
The scan revealed depth resolution so detailed it was possible to see differences in the height around the paint surface cracks and in the thickness of the varnish.
"We now have very precise information about the thickness of the layers," said Bruno Mottin of the French restoration center. "We know how the painting is painted, with very thin layers of painting. That's one of the things we couldn't see by the naked eye, and that Canadian technology brought us."
John Taylor of Canada's National Research Council said there were no signs of any brush stroke. "That includes the very fine details of the embroidery on the dress, the hair," he said. "This is the 'je ne sais quoi' of Leonardo. The genius. We don't know how he applied it."
The research even revealed da Vinci's first conception of Mona Lisa.
"The 3D imaging was able to detect the incised drawing to provide us with da Vinci's general conception for the composition," said Christian Lahanier, head of the documentation department of the French research center.
The artist brought the painting to France in 1517. It has been in the Louvre Museum since 1804.
The data collected in 16 hours of scanning took a year to analyze. It shows warping in the poplar panel da Vinci used as his canvas, but the Mona Lisa smile is not threatened.
"We didn't see any sign of paint lifting," Taylor said. "So for a 500-year-old painting it's very good news. And if they continue to keep it the way they have in an environment-controlled chamber, it could remain like that for a very long time."
Menu said all the secrets behind the enigmatic painting have yet to be revealed.
"Our laboratory is trying to uncover da Vinci's techniques. We particularly want to understand how he painted his shadows, the famous 'fumato' effect," Menu said.
Mona Lisa Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1503–1507 oil on poplar, 77 × 53 cm , 30 × 21 in Musée du Louvre
Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda (La Joconde), is a 16th-century oil painting on poplar wood by Leonardo da Vinci, and is, perhaps, the most famous painting in Western art history or even the world. Few other works of art are as romanticised, celebrated, parodied or reproduced. It is owned by the French government and hangs in the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
The painting shows a woman looking out at the viewer with what is described as an "enigmatic smile".
Title of the painting
The title Mona Lisa stems from the Giorgio Vasari biography of Leonardo da Vinci, published 31 years after Leonardo's death. In it, he identified the sitter as Lisa Gherardini, the wife of wealthy Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo. "Mona" is a common Italian contraction of "madonna," meaning "my lady," the equivalent of the English "Madam," so the title means "Madam Lisa." In modern Italian the short form of "madonna" is usually spelled "Monna," so the title is sometimes given as Monna Lisa. This is rare in English, but more common in Romance languages.
The alternative title La Gioconda is the feminine form of Giocondo. In Italian giocondo also means 'light-hearted' ('jocund' in English), so "gioconda" means "light-hearted woman". Because of her smile, this version of the title plays on this double-meaning, as in the French "La Joconde."
Both Mona Lisa and La Gioconda became established as titles for the painting in the 19th century. Before these names became established, the painting had been referred to by various descriptive phrases, such as "a certain Florentine lady" and "a courtesan in a gauze veil."
It is probable Leonardo began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 and, according to Vasari, completed it four years later.
Leonardo took the painting from Italy to France in 1516 when King François I invited the painter to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. The King bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Fontainebleau, where it remained until moved by Louis XIV.
Many art historians believe that after Leonardo's death the painting was cut down by having part of the panel at both sides removed. Originally there were columns on both sides of the figure, as we can be seen in early copies. The edges of the bases can still be seen in the original. However, some art historian, such as Martin Kemp, argue that the painting has not been altered, and that the columns depicted in the copies were added by the copyists.
It has been suggested that Leonardo created two versions of the painting, the other one being the version now known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, though the great majority of art historians reject its authenticity. Another copy, dating from c.1616 was given in c.1790 to Joshua Reynolds by the Duke of Leeds in exchange for a Reynolds self-portrait. Reynolds thought it to be the real painting and the French one a fake, which has now been disproved. It is, however, useful in that it was copied when the original's colours were far brighter than they are now, and so it gives some sense of the original's appearance 'as new'. It is held in the stores of the Dulwich Picture
17th to 19th century
Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.
The painting was not well-known until the mid-19th century, when artists of the emerging Symbolist movement began to appreciate it, and associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique. Critic Walter Pater, in his 1867 essay on Leonardo, expressed this view by describing the figure in the painting as a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity, who is "older than the rocks among which she sits" and who "has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave".
The painting's increasing fame was further emphasised when it was stolen on August 21, 1911. The next day, Louis Béroud, a painter, walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, in between Correggio's Mystical Marriage and Titian's Allegory of Alfonso d'Avalos, he found four iron pegs.
Béroud contacted the section head of the guards, who thought the painting was being photographed. A few hours later, Béroud checked back with the section head of the museum, and it was confirmed that the Mona Lisa was not with the photographers. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid in the investigation of the theft.
On September 6, avant-garde French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be "burnt down", was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of the theft. His friend Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed to be lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia stole it by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet and walking out with it hidden under his coat after the museum had closed. Con-man Eduardo de Valfierno master-minded the theft, and had commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. Because he did not need the original for his con, he never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. After keeping the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient and was caught when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913.
Second World War
During World War II the painting was again removed from the Louvre and taken to safety, first in Chateau Amboise, then in the Loc-Dieu Abbey and finally in the Ingres Museum in Montauban.
In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when someone doused it with acid. On December 30 of that same year, Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a young Bolivian, damaged the painting by throwing a rock at it. The result was a speck of pigment near Mona Lisa's left elbow. The painting is now covered with bulletproof security glass.
From December 14, 1962 to March of 1963, the French government lent it to the United States to be displayed in New York City and Washington D.C. In 1974, the painting exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow before being returned to the Louvre.
Prior to the 1962-63 tour, the painting was assessed for insurance purposes at $100 million. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this makes the Mona Lisa the most valuable painting ever insured. As an expensive painting, it has only recently been surpassed (in terms of actual dollar price) by Gustav Klimt 's Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was sold for $135 Million (£73 million) on 19 June 2006. Although this figure is greater than that which the Mona Lisa was insured for, the comparison does not account for the change in prices due to inflation -- $100 million in 1962 is approximately $645 million in 2005 when adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price
On April 6, 2005 — following a period of curatorial maintenance, recording, and analysis — the painting was moved, within the Louvre, to a new home in the museum's Salle des États. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bullet proof glass.
Vasari identified the subject to be the wife of socially prominent Francesco del Giocondo, who was a wealthy silk merchant of Florence and a prominent government figure. Until recently, little was known about his wife, Lisa Gherardini, except that she was born in 1479, raised at her family's Villa Vignamaggio in Tuscany and that she married del Giocondo in 1495.
In 2004 the Italian scholar Giuseppe Pallanti published Monna Lisa, Mulier Ingenua (literally '"Mona Lisa: Real Woman", published in English under the title Mona Lisa Revealed: The True Identity of Leonardo's Model). The book gathered archival evidence in support of the traditional identification of the model as Lisa Gherardini. According to Pallanti, the evidence suggests that Leonardo's father was a friend of del Giocondo. "The portrait of Mona Lisa, done when Lisa Gherardini was aged about 24, was probably commissioned by Leonardo's father himself for his friends as he is known to have done on at least one other occasion." Pallanti discovered that Lisa and Francesco had five children and that she outlived her husband. She lived at least into her 60s, though no record of her death was located.
In 2006 Bruno Mottin of the French Museums' Center for Research and Restoration used infrared and three-dimensional technology to make more vivid the transparent gauze veil worn by the sitter. Mottin argued that in the 16th century such veils were worn by women who were pregnant or just had given birth. He therefore concluded that the portrait was made around 1503 as a commemoration for the birth of Lisa Gheradini's second son.