The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous painting in the world. It's also one of the most mysterious, from the elusive smile to the identity of the person in the painting, everything about it raises questions. For instance, the sitter is commonly thought to be Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a 15th century Florentine silk merchant.
But there is speculation as to whether the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre is actually Lisa del Giocondo, and not someone else entirely. The reason for this is it's considered that there were two Mona Lisa portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci, one hangs in the Louvre while the other's whereabouts remains unknown.
Or at least it did until recently. Various different paintings have been offered up as the other version of the Mona Lisa. From one sat in a vault in a private collection in St Petersburg to many others. But a discovery unveiled in a recent BBC documentary Secrets of the Mona Lisa claims to have found its location, it's thought that it exists underneath the one hanging in the Louvre.
French scientist Pascal Cotte has used special techniques—something called Layer Amplification Method (LAM) where light is projected onto a painting and reflections are measured to reveal it's construction— to analyse the Louvre's Mona Lisa, and using digital reconstruction has revealed a portrait that sits underneath.
The portrait shows the sitter looking off to the side and it's speculated that it could be da Vinci's original painting of Lisa del Giocondo which he then painted over, for reasons unknown, adding the now-famous enigmatic smile and changing her appearance to create the masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre. The identity of which is now back to being a mystery.
"I have no doubt that this is definitely one of the stories of the century." says art historian and host of the documentary Andrew Graham-Dixon. "There will probably be some reluctance on the part of the authorities at the Louvre in changing the title of the painting because that's what we're talking about—it's goodbye Mona Lisa, she is somebody else."
You can learn more about it in this BBC article.