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Scientists winkle a secret from the `Mona Lisa’ about how Leonardo painted the masterpiece

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PARIS — The “Mona Lisa” has given up one other secret.

Utilizing X-rays to see into the chemical construction of a tiny speck of the celebrated murals, scientists have gained new perception into the strategies that Leonardo da Vinci used to color his groundbreaking portrait of the lady with the exquisitely enigmatic smile.

The analysis, printed Wednesday within the Journal of the American Chemical Society, means that the famously curious, realized and creative Italian Renaissance grasp might have been in a very experimental temper when he set to work on the “Mona Lisa” early within the sixteenth century.

The oil-paint recipe that Leonardo used as his base layer to organize the panel of poplar wooden seems to have been totally different for the “Mona Lisa,” with its personal distinctive chemical signature, the crew of scientists and artwork historians in France and Britain found.

“He was somebody who liked to experiment, and every of his work is totally totally different technically,” mentioned Victor Gonzalez, the examine’s lead writer and a chemist at France’s high analysis physique, the CNRS. Gonzalez has studied the chemical compositions of dozens of works by Leonardo, Rembrandt and different artists.

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“On this case, it’s attention-grabbing to see that certainly there’s a particular approach for the bottom layer of ‘Mona Lisa,’” he mentioned in an interview with The Related Press.

Particularly, the researchers discovered a uncommon compound, plumbonacrite, in Leonardo’s first layer of paint. The invention, Gonzalez mentioned, confirmed for the primary time what artwork historians had beforehand solely hypothesized: that Leonardo almost certainly used lead oxide powder to thicken and assist dry his paint as he started engaged on the portrait that now stares out from behind protecting glass within the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Carmen Bambach, a specialist in Italian artwork and curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, who was not concerned within the examine, known as the analysis “very thrilling” and mentioned any scientifically confirmed new insights into Leonardo’s portray strategies are “extraordinarily necessary information for the artwork world and our bigger world society.”

Discovering plumbonacrite within the “Mona Lisa” attests “to Leonardo’s spirit of passionate and fixed experimentation as a painter – it’s what renders him timeless and fashionable,” Bambach mentioned by e mail.

The paint fragment from the bottom layer of the “Mona Lisa” that was analyzed was barely seen to the bare eye, no bigger than the diameter of a human hair, and got here from the highest right-hand fringe of the portray.

The scientists peered into its atomic construction utilizing X-rays in a synchrotron, a big machine that accelerates particles to nearly the pace of sunshine. That allowed them to unravel the speck’s chemical make-up. Plumbonacrite is a byproduct of lead oxide, permitting the researchers to say with extra certainty that Leonardo probably used the powder in his paint recipe.

“Plumbonacrite is known as a fingerprint of his recipe,” Gonzalez mentioned. “It is the primary time we will really chemically verify it.”

After Leonardo, Dutch grasp Rembrandt might have used the same recipe when he was portray within the seventeenth century; Gonzalez and different researchers have beforehand discovered plumbonacrite in his work, too.

“It tells us additionally that these recipes have been handed on for hundreds of years,” Gonzalez mentioned. “It was an excellent recipe.”

Leonardo is believed to have dissolved lead oxide powder, which has an orange coloration, in linseed or walnut oil by heating the combination to make a thicker, faster-drying paste.

“What you’ll acquire is an oil that has a really good golden coloration,” Gonzalez mentioned. “It flows extra like honey.”

However the “Mona Lisa” — mentioned by the Louvre to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the spouse of a Florentine silk service provider — and different works by Leonardo nonetheless produce other secrets and techniques to inform.

“There are lots, lots extra issues to find, for positive. We’re barely scratching the floor,” Gonzalez mentioned. “What we’re saying is just a bit brick extra within the data.”

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