Secret portrait hidden under Mona Lisa, French scientist claims

© Jacky Naegelen
A French scientist claims to have found another portrait underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s most celebrated work, the Mona Lisa, after analyzing it with reflective light technology.

Pascal Cotte, who has been studying the famous painting for more than 10 years, said his findings revealed that the portrait beneath is one of another woman, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

"The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo's masterpiece forever,” he was quoted as saying. "When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini [the Mona Lisa], I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to the Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman."

The scientist, who is also the co-founder of Lumiere Technology in Paris, used a pioneering technique called Layer Amplification Method (LAM) in analyzing the painting.

The analysis revealed two more images under the surface of the painting - a portrait with a larger head and nose, and with bigger hands but smaller lips.

Cotte also claims to have found another Madonna-style image with Leonardo's etchings of a pearl headdress.

According to the BBC, the Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa, has declined to comment because the scientist is not part of the museum’s research team. Cotte was granted access to study the painting in 2004 as an independent researcher.

Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, the author of a new BBC documentary ‘The Secrets of the Mona Lisa’, which announced the revelations, says he doesn’t doubt “this is definitely one of the stories of the century.” He also suggested that following the discovery the name of the painting may have to be changed.

"There will probably be some reluctance on the part of the authorities at the Louvre in changing the title of the painting because that's what we're talking about - it's ‘goodbye Mona Lisa’, she is somebody else," he said.

In October 2007, Cotte also claimed to have discovered that when da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa the woman had eyebrows and eyelashes. He suggested they disappeared because the pigment faded or possibly because of a poor attempt to clean the painting years after.

The iconic painting was made by the Italian Renaissance artist in the early 16th century. It is widely believed that the woman da Vinci depicted was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a cloth and silk merchant who later became a local official in Florence.

However, the history of the painting has been riddled with an identity crisis, with some art historians finding similarities between the woman in the painting and self-portraits of Leonardo. It has also been suggested the painting was inspired by the painter’s male assistant, or that there are certain similarities between the Mona Lisa and Leonardo’s other masterpiece “St. John the Baptist.”