The BBC is getting ready to air a documentary, Secrets of the Mona Lisa, which will delve into the research of French scientist Pascal Cotte. Using an innovative imaging technique, Cotte has managed to probe the paint layers beneath the surface of da Vinci’s sixteenth-century masterpiece. And, lo and behold, he’s found hidden paintings, including what he believes is an original, “real” portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (the subject of da Vinci’s painting).
The host of the documentary, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, announced, “I have no doubt that this is definitely one of the stories of the century.” Other art historians are not getting carried away. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, said in an interview: “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 discrete 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.” Or, put differently, there are not different portraits on da Vinci’s canvas, just stages of the same portrait that now hangs in the Louvre today.