PARIS (AP) — The “Mona Lisa” has revealed another secret.
Using X-rays to look into the chemical structure of a tiny particle celebrated work of artScientists have gained new insights into the techniques Leonardo da Vinci used to paint his groundbreaking portrait of the woman with the most enigmatic smile.
The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, suggests that the famously curious, erudite and inventive Italian Renaissance master may have been in a particularly experimental mood when he set out to work on the ” “Mona Lisa” made .
The oil paint recipe that Leonardo used as a base coat to create the poplar wood panel appears to have been different for the “Mona Lisa,” with its own distinctive chemical signature, the team of scientists and art historians in France and Britain found.
“He was someone who liked to experiment, and each of his paintings is technically completely different,” said Victor Gonzalez, the study’s lead author and a chemist at France’s leading research institution, the CNRS. Gonzalez has studied the chemical composition of dozens of works by Leonardo, Rembrandt and other artists.
“In this case, it’s interesting to see that there is actually a special technique for the base layer of ‘Mona Lisa,'” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Specifically, the researchers found a rare compound, plumbonacrite, in Leonardo’s first layer of paint. The discovery, Gonzalez said, confirms for the first time what art historians had previously only suspected: that Leonardo most likely used lead oxide powder to thicken and dry his paint when he began work on the portrait, which now peeks out from behind protective glass The Louvre Museum in Paris.
Carmen Bambach, a specialist in Italian art and curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art who was not involved in the study, called the research “very exciting” and said any scientifically proven new findings about Leonardo’s painting techniques “are extremely important news for “ be the art world and our larger global society.”
The fact that plumbonacrite is found in the “Mona Lisa” is a testament to “Leonardo’s spirit of passionate and constant experimentation as a painter – that makes him timeless and modern,” Bambach said via email.
The analyzed color fragment from the base layer of the “Mona Lisa” was barely visible to the naked eye, was no larger than the diameter of a human hair, and came from the upper right edge of the painting.
Scientists gained insight into atomic structure using X-rays in a synchrotron, a large machine that accelerates particles to near the speed of light. This allowed them to decipher the chemical composition of the stain. Plumbonacrite is a byproduct of lead oxide, so researchers can say with greater certainty that Leonardo likely used the powder in his paint recipe.
“Plumbonacrite is really a fingerprint of his recipe,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the first time we can actually confirm it chemically.”
After Leonardo, the Dutch master Rembrandt may have used a similar recipe when he painted in the 17th century. Gonzalez and other researchers have also previously found plumbonacrite in his work.
“It also shows us that these recipes have been passed down through the centuries,” Gonzalez said. “It was a very good recipe.”
Leonardo is believed to have dissolved lead oxide powder, which is orange in color, in linseed or walnut oil by heating the mixture to create a thicker, quicker-drying paste.
“You get an oil that has a very nice golden color,” Gonzalez said. “It flows more like honey.”
But the “Mona Lisa” — a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant, according to the Louvre — and other works by Leonardo still exist other secrets to tell.
“There are definitely many, many more things to discover. We’re barely scratching the surface,” Gonzalez said. “What we’re saying is just a little more knowledge.”