French scientist discovers a hidden painting under the Mona Lisa

Pascal Cotte discovers painting hidden beneath the Mona Lisa.
(Image credit: Kathryn Hunter/Twitter, Courtesy BBC News (UK) and Brinkworth Films)

"Mona Lisa" might not be the only piece Leonardo Da Vinci painted on that canvas. French scientist Pascal Cotte says he has found three other paintings beneath the 500-year-old Da Vinci masterpiece after more than 10 years of analysis with reflect light technology. The technique "used a multispectral camera to project intense lights on to the painting while measuring the reflections... [to] expose what happened between the paint layers," CNN reports.

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A reconstruction of one of the hidden paintings reveals what appears to be a woman gazing off to the distance, with no signs of Mona Lisa's famous slight smile. Cotte thinks that this woman might be the real Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a silk merchant — rather than the woman in the "Mona Lisa."

"The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo's masterpiece forever," Cotte said in a statement. "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."

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Not everyone in the art world is buying this theory, however. While art historian Martin Kemp lauded Cotte's technique as "highly innovatory," he told CNN that he thinks the hidden paintings are simply part of the evolution to the final product. "There are considerable changes during the course of the making of the portrait — as is the case with most of Leonardo's paintings," Kemp told CNN. "I prefer to see a fluid evolution from a relatively straightforward portrait of a Florentine woman into a philosophical and poetic picture that has universal dimension."

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