Even after 5 centuries, the Mona Lisa is still turning up new reasons to be wowed by it. A study has revealed that Leonardo da Vinci actually had drawn an earlier “backbone” drawing on to the canvas of the famous piece. 

According to research published by French engineer Pascal Cotte in the Journal of Cultural Heritage and his book, Lumière on The Mona Lisa: Hidden Portraits, a preparatory drawing that had remained previously undiscovered is believed to have been first stenciled onto the canvas, before the image we see today was painted.

Multispectral analysis indicates the presence of a “spolvero” underdrawing. Image by Pascal Cotte, via artnews.

 The study, which took 15 years to complete indicates that Da Vinci likely transferred the sketch by poking holes along his draft and dusting charcoal over the canvas. Known as the spolvero technique, Leonardo’s possible use of this method was discovered through 1,650 photographic scans taken from Cotte’s Lumiere Technology camera with the consent and request of the Louvre.

The Louvre had invited Cotte to perform the analysis, he says in an email to  artnews, as he was “the inventor of a new very high-resolution, highly sensitive multispectral camera”.

This “Lumiere Technology camera” is able to apply Cotte’s pioneering “Layer amplification method”, which combines infrared and near-infrared photography techniques, and can detect light in images on 13 wavelengths, which results in the appearance of “very fine” charcoal underdrawings in lighter areas of the famous  5 centuries old Renaissance masterpiece.

The Lumiere Technology camera at work at the Louvre. Image by Pascal Cotte, via artnews.

“The optical system allows us to see very fine details and the high sensitivity allows a very high amplification of low signal,” Cotte added in the email. “The spolvero on the forehead and on the hand betrays a complete underdrawing.”

French engineer Pascal Cotte. The image behind him is a digital reconstruction of the underdrawing. Image: Brinkworth Films/BBC

According to Artnews, this is the first time a spolvero has been spotted in the famous Mona Lisa, and it raises the “fascinating possibility” that a paper drawing of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo’s hand may still exist somewhere out there. It is possible it would reveal the changes and adjustments that took place in lead up to the final composition that we see today.

Categories: artNews


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