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Why Doesn’t the “Mona Lisa” Have Eyebrows?

The "Mona Lisa's" missing eyebrows have intrigued art enthusiasts for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, shrouded in mystery, reflects a Renaissance beauty trend where facial hair was often plucked. Some experts suggest subtle shading once existed, now faded with time. What other secrets might the "Mona Lisa" hold? Join us as we uncover the layers of this enigmatic portrait.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is arguably the world’s most famous painting, but that doesn’t mean we’ve unraveled all of its mysteries. Art experts still have questions about this iconic portrait, and thanks to high-tech innovations, they’re constantly discovering new information about da Vinci’s masterpiece.

For example, in 2007, French engineer and inventor Pascal Cotte announced that he had found evidence that the Mona Lisa had originally been painted with eyebrows and eyelashes, despite them being notably absent from the painting we see today.

According to an engineer who made high-definition scans of the painting, restoration efforts are probably responsible for erasing the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and eyelashes.
According to an engineer who made high-definition scans of the painting, restoration efforts are probably responsible for erasing the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and eyelashes.

Cotte designed his own high-resolution camera to study the Mona Lisa up close and spent thousands of hours looking at 240-megapixel scans of the painting, using sensors that could detect visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. He identified a single eyebrow hair, which he considered proof that the Mona Lisa once had a full set. It’s unclear why her brows and lashes have disappeared, though Cotte has suggested that the pigment has faded or, more likely, that they were accidentally removed at some point during cleaning and restoration efforts.

Some of Cotte’s other findings are even more surprising. Apparently, the painting's subject was originally holding a lap blanket that has almost completely faded, which explains her unique arm position. He also said that her famous smile was originally wider and more expressive than the slight, enigmatic smile we know today.

Perhaps most notably, Cotte produced a restoration of what he says the painting’s original colors would have looked like when new. According to Cotte, the painting is full of grey, green, yellow, and brown hues that are simply the result of age. Back in Leonardo da Vinci's day, the Mona Lisa would have had a much bluer sky and brighter whites, and the subject’s skin would have appeared a warmer pink.

Mysteries of the Mona Lisa:

  • Leonardo da Vinci most likely completed the Mona Lisa around 1506. It is thought to depict Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant.

  • In August 2007, Cotte’s findings were displayed at the Metreon in San Francisco in an exhibition entitled “Da Vinci: An Exhibition of Genius.”

  • According to Cotte,“If you look closely at the eye of Mona Lisa you can clearly see that the cracks around the eye have slightly disappeared, and that may be explained that one day a curator or restorer cleaned the eye, and cleaning the eye, removed, probably removed the eyelashes and eyebrow.”

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • According to an engineer who made high-definition scans of the painting, restoration efforts are probably responsible for erasing the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and eyelashes.
      According to an engineer who made high-definition scans of the painting, restoration efforts are probably responsible for erasing the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and eyelashes.