So apparently the Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows. Eyelashes too. What are my sources for this outrageous assertion? Well, during a recent trip up to Portland, Oregon, I paid a visit to the OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) for the sole reason of visiting the special traveling da Vinci exhibit entitled, “Da Vinci the Genius.” After working my way through the codices, various built-to-scale inventions, and anatomical sketches, I entered the portion of the exhibit featuring the “Secrets of Mona Lisa.” And that’s where I stumbled upon this shocking business about her eyebrows. A single informational placard seemed to jostle the fragile core of my very limited knowledge of art history.
While this may already be common knowledge to some of you, it was a rather startling (and more than a little unwelcome) discovery for me. I imagine the realization I experienced was somewhat akin (though to a much lesser degree, I will admit) to how connoisseurs of the Sistine Chapel must have felt after the restoration of Michelangelo’s ceiling was completed in the mid-1990s, revealing colors much more vibrant than many anticipated. It is unsettling, this feeling—to think that an ancient master’s original work might have been significantly different from what we’ve always accepted and believed it to be. Now granted whether Mona Lisa had eyebrows or eyelashes can’t really be considered a terribly drastic visual difference, but as it concerns my personal perception of the painting, they may as well have told me she was blonde.
I first saw the Mona Lisa on a day trip to the Louvre in 2005 when I was studying abroad in France. At that time, I already had a crisp mental picture to work with, as would most people. (After all, I would imagine the painting is one of the most recognizable in existence.) I knew exactly what to expect, even that the painting would be smaller than I was expecting. And as I stood in front of the piece, for probably no more than three to five minutes of my seven-hour Louvre adventure, I couldn’t stop looking at her eyes. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but the lasting impression the painting left on me was something along the lines of, “Why would you ever paint someone without eyebrows?”
And now, thanks to the results of an extensive photographic study by a man named Pascal Cotte, I know that da Vinci probably would have asked the very same question of someone else’s Mona, had there been one during his lifetime. Cotte’s study, the exhibit will lead you to believe, has irrefutably confirmed the past existence of both eyebrows and eyelashes on da Vinci’s materpiece. So there you have it. Eyebrows. Eyelashes. There’s no telling what might come next....
To learn more about "Da Vinci the Genius," visit http://www.davincithegenius.com.
Walter Foster titles that feature da Vinci:
Learn to Draw Like the Masters: Dragons
The Daily Book of Art