[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ARIS – The digital recreation of an image found under Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece has thrown new doubts over the real identity of Mona Lisa.
French scientist Pacal Cotte has said Leonardo’s most celebrated work was painted over another similar portrait.
He spent 10 years analysing the artwork and used a multispectral imaging camera to make the discovery, which has led to a digital recreation of the original being made.
Mr Cotte, who was given access to the painting in 2004, says that an earlier image was hidden by Leonardo underneath his masterpiece.
The scientist said the woman painted underneath does not appear to be Lisa Gherardini, a Florentine silk merchant’s wife, the woman widely believed to have inspired the painting.
One acclaimed art historian has claimed the original artwork is of Pacifica Brandano.
Mr Cotte said: “The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.
“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.”
Art expert Andrew Graham-Dixon said in a BBC Two documentary, Secrets of the Mona Lisa, to be screened tonight, the new discovery was the original. He said the digital recreation was a “perfect match for the historical record”.
The documentary claims the subject is Pacifica, who was the mistress of Leonardo’s patron Giuliano de Lorenzi de Medici.
Historians believe Leonardo worked on Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1517, first in Florence and later in France.
Mr Cote used his own Layer Amplification Method on the masterpiece.
It works by “projecting a series of intense lights” onto the painting, Mr Cotte said.
A camera then takes measurements of the lights’ reflections and from those measurements, Mr Cotte said he is able to reconstruct what has happened between the layers of the paint.
He said: “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.”
However not everyone is convinced about the original.
Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, said: “They [Cotte’s images] are ingenious in showing what Leonardo may have been thinking about.
“But the idea that there is that picture as it were hiding underneath the surface is untenable.
“I do not think there are these discreet 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.”