As the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa draws more than six million admirers to the Louvre each year. But what secrets lie beneath that serene countenance? Buckle up, fellow Paintviners, as we unravel the mysteries of this iconic masterpiece.

Who was Mona Lisa?

The identity of the woman in the portrait has sparked endless speculation. Over the past century, various theories have emerged. Was she a noblewoman? Perhaps Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua, or Costanza d’Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla? Some even claim to see the face of a man – Leonardo da Vinci himself, or maybe his assistant and rumoured lover, Gian Giacomo Caprotti. But most experts now agree that she is Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, wife of a Florentine silk merchant.

Uncovering hidden initials

In 2010, Silvano Vinceti, chairman of Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, claimed to have discovered something microscopic: letters painted on Mona Lisa’s eyes. In her right eye, are Leonardo da Vinci’s initials L and V, and perhaps C, E, or B in the left. Vinceti speculated these were the initials of the model. The Louvre, however, dismissed this as mere cracks in the paint. But imagine if Mona Lisa were secretly sending coded messages through her eyes – a Renaissance spy, perhaps? The plot thickens.

The broken backdrop

Take a closer look at the distant landscape behind Mona Lisa’s head. It’s subtly unsettling. The right side appears higher than the left, creating an optical illusion. When you gaze left, she seems taller; when right, she shrinks. Was this intentional? A hidden message? Or just Leonardo playing tricks on our eyes? Either way, it adds to the mystique.

Is she smiling?

The debate surrounding the Mona Lisa's smile takes an intriguing turn as insights from archaeologists and neurologists come to light. While some assert that her expression is merely that of a person with missing front teeth, hinting at a non-genuine smile, others argue that her enigmatic grin exudes happiness. A team of researchers, including a neurologist from the University of Cincinnati, points to the asymmetry of her smile as evidence of its insincerity. However, experiments conducted by researchers at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany, paint a different picture. Their findings reveal that nearly 100 percent of participants perceived the Mona Lisa's smile as one of genuine happiness.

As conflicting interpretations continue to emerge, the enigmatic allure of the Mona Lisa's smile persists.

The absence of eyebrows and eyelashes

Ah, the Mona Lisa’s face – so captivating, yet curiously devoid of eyebrows and eyelashes. Was it a fashion statement of the time? Or did Leonardo intentionally omit them? Some speculate that he wanted to emphasise her ethereal beauty, transcending earthly details. Others whisper that Mona Lisa was a victim of Renaissance over-plucking.

The mystery shrouding the Mona Lisa's lack of eyebrows and eyelashes has finally been solved, thanks to the diligent work of engineer Pascal Cotte. Through his meticulous 240-megapixel scans of the painting, Cotte unearthed traces of the original features, revealing that Leonardo da Vinci did indeed paint the iconic subject with both brows and lashes. Over centuries of restoration and cleaning, however, these delicate details have been gradually eroded, leaving behind only faint remnants. 

Love letters

Another fascinating aspect of the Mona Lisa is the extraordinary amount of love letters she receives. So many, in fact, that she has her own mailbox at the Louvre Museum in Paris, where she resides. Some even say she’s the original influencer, inspiring poets, painters, and dreamers across centuries. Perhaps her smile holds the secret to eternal romance?

So next time you pick up your brush, channel a bit of Mona Lisa’s intrigue. Let her secrets infuse your canvas, and who knows – maybe your art will inspire love letters too!