Mona Lisa’s secrets are out

story by Daniel Maher, special to The City Wire

If you think you know the Mona Lisa, you had better think again.

Think of her as la Joconde, as the French do, or as la Gioconda, as they do in Italy, and think of her with more vibrant colors and mysteries revealed than you’ve ever imagined.

All these secrets have been disclosed by the unimaginable camera of Pascal Cotte, a French scientist and engineer who developed a high tech scanner which was able to penetrate 500 years of secretions that were layered over the original brushstrokes of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

Five hundred years of yellowing varnish have now been penetrated, pixilated and assigned new properties, to “remove the interference” as Pascal Cotte, told a group of UAFS art faculty and students Thursday afternoon at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (FSRAM). His exhibit, Secrets of the Mona Lisa, is the feature of the grand opening of the FSRAM, Saturday (Jan. 19).

In an interview after the art student’s tour, Cotte explained that his digitizing camera was able to capture several layers of data within the spectrum of the paint and varnish laced on top of the poplar tree board on which da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa so many years ago.

“By digitizing the painting we were able to catch the layers and assign new properties to them,” Cotte said.

He compared it to digitizing an orchestra.

“Imagine having a microphone on every instrument in a symphony. Afterward you can go back and isolate very specific data for analysis,” he explained.

In doing this to the familiar visage of the Mona Lisa, Cotte has rendered her centuries of secrets, which had been hidden within layers of paint and tarnished varnish, discernible to the naked eye.

While it is the Mona Lisa’s smile which has attracted us to her, the real meaning behind her emotive expression is seldom heard. Cotte explained that da Vinci produced the portrait with a particular mother in mind.

“It is the portrait of the smile of a mother to her son. She is the perfect mother. We all have a mother, so we all have a response to her look,” Cotte said.

Most viewers of this famous portrait never look beyond that motherly smile. Cotte’s photos however, reveal greater symbolic imagery. In his enlarged photos of the background in the painting you can now see a larger context.

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“Behind her right side you see a dried up river, jagged rocks, and wild nature. Over her left side you see a navigable river and a bridge, you see signs of civilization,” Cotte said. “Motherhood mediating between nature and society,” is not what people usually think of when they think of the Mona Lisa.

This is but one of many mysteries that are revealed in this collection of prints by Secrets of the Mona Lisa. Cotte will be on hand for tours and discussion of the exhibit at Saturday evening’s Gala Opening.

Tickets to the opening are $100. On Sunday (Jan. 20) normal operating hours of the FSRAM will commence. They will be Thursday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

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