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Mona Lisa: Hidden markings show that da Vinci "traced" the iconic painting from an earlier sketch


We may never know the secret behind the Mona Lisa's unfathomable smile – but Leonardo da Vinci's iconic 1503 oil portrait revealed one of his other secrets.

French researchers used a high-resolution camera capable of capturing light outside the visible spectrum to examine the masterpiece in unprecedented detail.

The images revealed dots of carbon that are traces of a technique known as "spolvero" or "jumping" – which is used to transfer outlines from a sketch to a new board.

While spolvero is a common technique, this is the first time it has been definitively proven that the final Mona Lisa is based on a preparatory sketch.

The researchers also found evidence that da Vinci had edited the Mona Lisa after completing the work, with her left hand in a slightly different position in the track.

In addition, some of the Spolvero dots appear to correspond to an earlier, abandoned project on which da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.

French researchers used a high-resolution camera capable of capturing light outside the visible spectrum to examine the masterpiece in unprecedented detail. In the picture: The Spolvero points and hidden details that can be seen under the Mona Lisa with a high-resolution multispectral camera, together with the so-called "Layer Amplification Method" (LAM) to identify the weak spots

The images revealed carbon dots that are traces of a technique known as
The images revealed carbon dots that are traces of a technique known as

The images revealed dots of charcoal that are traces of a technique known as "spolvero" or "jumping" – which is used to transfer outlines from a sketch to a new board. Pictured a close-up view of the Mona Lisa's forehead, seen in normal light (left) and after multispectral analysis (right). The latter picture shows the Spolvero points tracing the detail under her hairline

The art technique of jumping is no different from the method of copying a picture over tracing paper, as it might be known from art class in school.

To carry out the transfer, the artist drills small holes – either directly in the original sketch or in tracing paper placed on top – and traces the outlines of the image as a series of tiny dots.

This perforated stencil is then placed over the final canvas and a powder – such as graphite, chalk, or pastel – is pushed through the holes, leaving a copy of the original dot-joint-style sketch on the surface where the work is being done .

Falling is ideal when the canvas is not forgiving of mistakes, e.g. E.g. when making an engraving or – in the case of the Mona Lisa – when painting on poplar wood that has been carefully prepared over the course of up to a decade.

Leonardo – who had learned his craft under the Italian master Andrea del Verrocchio – would have been used to painting on such wooden panels, which would have been dried and treated with a mixture of glue, chalk and white pigment.

This creates a smooth, silky surface on which a work can be painted – under the guidance of the spolvero dots that were transferred from preparatory sketches.

"There are many spolveri in other portraits painted by Leonardo," explained paper authors Pascal Cotte and Lionel Simonot.

For example, she continued, the traces can be seen in "The Lady with an Ermine, Ginevra de & # 39; Benci and La Belle Ferronnière".

"So it was surprising that none were discovered in Mona Lisa (before)."

While spolvero is a common technique, this is the first time it has been definitively proven that the final Mona Lisa is based on a preparatory sketch. Pictured a close-up of the Mona Lisa's hands in normal light
While spolvero is a common technique, this is the first time it has been definitively proven that the final Mona Lisa is based on a preparatory sketch. Pictured a close-up view of the Mona Lisa's hands as seen after multispectral analysis. The picture shows the Spolvero points that draw the outline of each hand

While spolvero is a common technique, this is the first time it has been definitively proven that the final Mona Lisa is based on a preparatory sketch. Pictured is a close-up view of the Mona Lisa's hands, seen in normal light (left) and after multispectral analysis (right). The latter picture shows the Spolvero points that draw the outline of each hand

To do a Spolvero transfer, the artist drills small holes - either directly in the original sketch or in tracing paper placed over it - and traces the outlines of the picture as a series of tiny dots. This perforated stencil is then placed over the final canvas and a powder - such as graphite, chalk, or pastel - is pushed through the holes, leaving a copy of the original dot-joint-style sketch on the surface where the work is being done . The dots in the paper itself can be made with either a needle or a sprocket as shown

To perform a Spolvero transfer, the artist drills small holes – either directly in the original sketch or in tracing paper placed over it – and traces the outlines of the picture as a series of tiny dots. This perforated stencil is then placed over the final canvas and a powder – such as graphite, chalk, or pastel – is pushed through the holes, leaving a copy of the original dot-joint-style sketch on the surface where the work is being done . The dots in the paper itself can be made with either a needle or a sprocket as shown

French researchers used a high-resolution camera (pictured right) that can capture light from outside the visible spectrum to examine the masterpiece (left) in unprecedented detail

French researchers used a high-resolution camera (pictured right) that can capture light from outside the visible spectrum to examine the masterpiece (left) in unprecedented detail

The traces show that the da Vinci made a number of changes to the Mona Lisa, from its original sketch to the finished work.

In the near infrared region of the spectrum, for example, the team found evidence that the fingers of Mona Lisa's left hand were originally in a slightly different position.

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a blackboard previously used on a abandoned project – such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and expense involved in preparing the poplar panels.

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a blackboard previously used on a abandoned project - such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and expense involved in preparing the poplar panels

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a blackboard previously used on a abandoned project - such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and expense involved in preparing the poplar panels

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a blackboard previously used on a abandoned project – such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and cost involved in preparing the poplar panels

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a chalkboard previously used on an abandoned project. Such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and expense involved in preparing the poplar panels. In the picture another example of Spolvero under a Da Vinci painting - in this case "The Lady with the Ermine", in which the outlines of the point do not correspond at all with the surface image. This suggests that either the composition has been radically altered or that the traces belong to another work that has been abandoned and whose wood panel has been reused for the final work

Messrs. Cotte and Simonot also discovered evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted on a chalkboard previously used on an abandoned project. Such reuse would not have been uncommon given the time and expense involved in preparing the poplar panels. In the picture another example of Spolvero under a Da Vinci painting – in this case "The Lady with the Ermine", in which the outlines of the point do not correspond at all with the surface image. This suggests that either the composition has been radically altered or that the traces belong to another work that has been abandoned and whose wood panel has been reused for the final work

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