Which secret did LEONARDO DA VINCI take to his grave?
It’s arguably the most unusual decryption programme ever made. Using what’s known as emotion-recognition software, Italian computer expert Nicu Sebe from the University of Amsterdam and researchers at the University of Illinois unravelled the world’s greatest art mystery: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
One of the peculiarities of the painting is that, depending on the angle it’s viewed from, the woman seems to display different emotions: sometimes she’s smiling, at others she looks serious. This Mona Lisa code was only deciphered 500 years after the death of its ingenious painter. The code? 83-9-6-2: the Mona Lisa’s face is 83% happy, but the position of her eyes and the curve of her lips mean that she also displays 9% disgust, 6% fear and 2% anger.
Much more is hidden behind the enigmatic smile. In painting the iconic picture, Leonardo uncovered an ancient mystery – the miracle of sight. He had secretly obtained corpses, studying the structure of their brains, muscles and eyes. He needed to understand them before he could paint the Mona Lisa and her way of seeing the world. It proves that the artist was the first to understand how a human perceives the world: the way the eye processes visual information, while the brain interprets it.
Margaret Livingstone, a vision expert at Harvard Medical School, says: “The elusive quality of the Mona Lisa’s smile can be explained by the fact that her smile is almost entirely in low spatial frequencies, and so is seen best by your peripheral vision. So when you look at her eyes or the background, you think she is smiling. But when you look directly at her mouth, her smile seems to vanish.” Leonardo studied his model for months. He didn’t just paint a picture – he produced a profile of a person. It’s been described as a painted psychoanalysis. But the painting also symbolises something else: a new way of seeing the world. Each viewer creates their own Mona Lisa – depending on their viewpoint. That’s probably the most important Mona Lisa code: everyone has the freedom to see things the way they want. Of course, 500 years ago that would have been very dangerous. Back then, the Church’s world view was the only truth.
DA VINCI’S LEGACY For 500 years, the Mona Lisa kept the mysteries of its creator – until the secrets of her smile were finally revealed.