Hidden Portrait “Underneath” Mona Lisa

As it turns out, the Mona Lisa didn’t originally smile. French Scientist Pascal Cotte has spent over a decade using technology to analyze the portrait. Of course, the Mona Lisa has been examined over the course of half a century, utilizing infrared inspection and multispectral scanning. What has changed? Cotte is a pioneer of a scientific techinque called the Layer Amplification Method (LAM), which he claims can penetrate the painting more efficiently. Like the rings of a tree, the painting’s history could be viewed layer by layer. Cotte states: “We can now analyse exactly what is happening inside the layers of the paint and we can peel like an onion all the layers of the painting. We can reconstruct all the chronology of the creation of the painting.” These means that a non-invasive camera would analyze the relief of every layer of paint to tell its history.

"The image on the left is a digital reconstruction of what Mr Cotte claims to have found underneath the Mona Lisa," says BBC. Photo courtesy Brinkworth Films.

“The image on the left is a digital reconstruction of what Mr Cotte claims to have found underneath the Mona Lisa,” says BBC. Photo courtesy Brinkworth Films.

So, what does Cotte claim to have found? According to Cotte, the layers represent dramatically different directions than the final rendered work—in fact, a second woman. “When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman,” proclaims Cotte. He indicates that there are two more images beneath the surface—a outline of a portrait with a larger head and nose, smaller lips, and bigger hands. Interestingly, Cotte claims to have also found a Madonna-style etching of a pearl headdress.

In an example that Cotte has constructed, Mona Lisa doesn’t quite smile. There is no secret smirk to enthrall the audience. In fact, she appears to be a completely different woman as Cotte describes. For centuries, the world has believed that the Mona Lisa is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant. Cotte claims that his findings challenge this perceived fact. He strongly believes that the image he’s constructed is the original Leonardo da Vinci’s original Lisa—that the portrait titled Mona Lisa for hundreds of years is another woman.

There are divided opinions on the matter. Art historians and critics are skeptical about the proclaimed find, especially given that Cotte was not part of any official research by the Louvre. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, told BBC that “I do not think there are these discrete stages which represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa.” Cotte had announced his findings at a press conference in Shanghai on Tuesday, 12/08/2015. His reconstruction will be included in an internationally traveling exhibition, Da Vinci – The Genius, which features additional displays of his research on the famous portrait over the last decade. The exhibition opens in Shanghai this week. The findings will air in a documentary, “Secrets of the Mona Lisa”, on BBC Two tomorrow at 9pm GMT.

About the Author

Tiffany Chaney is a freelance writer, artist and graphic designer residing in North Carolina. In 2012, her first poetry collection Between Blue and Grey was released. Find out more about her at