By Anne Leader

The Mona Lisa is once again making headlines. Leonardo’s famous portrait continues to draw attention, this time from engineer Pascal Cotte, founder of a Paris technology company that has developed multispectral digitization techniques to study paintings. Conservators have long used noninvasive techniques like infrared and x-ray photography to study the multiple paint layers typical of Old Master paintings. Cotte claims to have found another portrait ‘hidden’ under the famous face of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, using Layer Amplification Method. With LAM, investigators project intense light onto the picture to uncover successive layers of paint application.

That Leonardo made changes to his portrait as he went along is fairly certain, as seen in an early copy of the portrait now in Madrid. That these changes, or pentimenti, should be seen as evidence of a different woman ‘hiding’ under Lisa is highly unlikely. Leonardo expert Martin Kemp, himself embroiled in another Leonardo controversy about a portrait drawing known as ‘La Bella Principessa,’ counsels that the newly revealed paint layers ‘are ingenious in showing what Leonardo may have been thinking about. But the idea that there is … as it were [another picture] hiding underneath the surface is untenable.’ A documentary film on Cotte’s work, ‘The Secrets of the Mona Lisa,’ airs on BBC Two on 9 December 2015 at 9PM GMT.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, ca. 1503, detail. Paris, Musée du Louvre

Leonardo’s Mona Lisa under examination. AP Photo/V.A Sol/ESRF

Pascal Cotte, co-founder of Lumiere Technology, examines photographs of the Mona Lisa. Photo: Brinkworth Films

Mona Lisa under the light. Photo: Brinkworth Films

Reconstructed ‘first’ portrait, Pascal Cotte. Photo: BBC

Cotte with his reconstruction and a facsimile of the Mona Lisa as she appears today. Photo: Brinkworth Films

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