Which se­cret did LEONARDO DA VINCI take to his grave?

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - History -

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.

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