Arguably one of the “best known, most visited, and most written about work of art in the world” is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. One cannot stop by The Louvre Museum in Paris without taking a moment to stop by the room that holds this portrait. It is fascinating how famous this painting has become considering its small size (30 inches x 21 inches). From theft of the painting in the early 1900’s to multiple acts of vandalism during the 1950’s, the Mona Lisa now sits securely in a climate controlled environment within a bulletproof glass case.
If you look closely at the Mona Lisa today you will notice one common feature missing from her face. She appears to have no eyebrows or eyelashes! There are two common theories to why the Mona Lisa is missing these definitive features. The first theory is that it was common during early 1500’s for women to pluck their eyebrows completely since they were considered unsightly.
Mona Lisa’s eyebrows sparked so much intrigue that in 2007 a French engineer (Pascal Cotte) performed ultra-high resolution scans of the painting to provide concrete evidence on the missing eyebrows. Cotte was quoted saying “One day I say, if I can find only one hair, only one hair of the eyebrow, I will have definitively the proof that originally Leonardo da Vinci had painted eyelash and eyebrow.” These high resolution scans were successful in providing evidence of the second theory that the Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes and with more visible eyebrows that had gradually disappeared over time. Cotte’s theory is that a curator or restorer of the Mona Lisa cleaned the eye, and during cleaning/restoration the eyelashes and eyebrow were removed.
It’s unknown if we will ever know with complete certainty if the Mona Lisa was painted with eyebrows or eyelashes. It is said that Leonardo kept this painting with him for more than a decade, and it has also been rumored that he worked on it until his death. Maybe Leonardo never finished the painting because he couldn’t get the eyelashes quite right, or maybe the painting was changed over the course of over 500 years? It may remain a mystery as Leonardo himself is quoted as saying “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
^ John Lichfield, The Moving of the Mona Lisa, The Independent, 2005-04-02 (Retrieved 9 March 2012) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-moving-of-the-mona-lisa-6149165.html