Using X-rays to peer into the chemical structure of a tiny speck of the celebrated work of art, scientists have gained new insight into the techniques that Leonardo da Vinci used to paint his groundbreaking portrait of the woman with the exquisitely enigmatic smile.
The research, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, suggests that the famously curious, learned and inventive Italian Renaissance master may have been in a particularly experimental mood when he set to work on the “Mona Lisa” early in the 16th century.
The oil-paint recipe that Leonardo used as his base layer to prepare the panel of poplar wood 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 discovered.
“He was someone who loved to experiment, and each of his paintings is completely different technically,” said Victor Gonzalez, the study's lead author and a chemist at France’s top research body, the CNRS. Gonzalez has studied the chemical compositions of dozens of works by Leonardo, Rembrandt and other artists.