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Mystery of Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile solved

Mystery of Mona Lisa’s smile ‘solved’ as experts say Da Vinci used the same illusion years before

Scientists may have discovered the secret behind one of the most famous mysteries in the history of art – Mona Lisa’s smile.


Experts from two UK universities said a new study of another painting believed to be by Leonardo da Vinci, La Bella Principessa, proves that it uses the same technique of the “uncatchable smile”. The illusion behind Mona Lisa’s enigmatic quality is thought to stem from the fact that she appears to be smiling -until the viewer looks directly at the subject’s mouth, at which point it seems downturned.


The big question for experts is whether or not this effect -created through a complex combination of colours and shades -was intended by Da Vinci himself.

Research has proven La Bella Principessa to be an ear lier work by the same artist, according to Sheffield Hallam’s psychology professor and expert in visual perception Ales sandro Soranzo. The painting is thought to depict 13-year-old Bianca Sforza, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza (Il Moro), duke of Milan, before her marriage to a commander of the Milanese forces.


The study reveals how La Bella Principessa (right), painted by da Vinci before the Mona Lisa (left) in the late 15th Century, uses a clever trick to lure in the viewer. By expertly blending colours to exploit our peripheral vision, the shape of the subject’s mouth appears to change according to view point, researchers found.


Soranzo said, “the existence of a similar illusion in a portrait prior to the Mona Lisa becomes more interesting”. The expert and his team used a series of experiments to examine how the viewer perceives the two paintings when factors such as the viewing distance and the level of “blur” applied to the image were altered.

They also examined a third painting, Portrait of a Girl by Piero del Pollaiuolo, as a control.




Researchers found that, when viewed from a greater distance or with a greater blur affect, the smiles perceived in the two paintings increased. The same was not the case for the piece by Del Pollaiuolo. Soranzo said, “Given da Vinci’s mastery of the technique, and its subsequent use in the Mona Lisa, it is quite conceivable that the ambiguity of the effect was intentional.”


Mona Lisa Mystery Solved