Scientists Reveal Hidden Portraits Within Renowned Da Vinci Painting

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

lady-with-ermineA French engineer has revealed two portraits beneath one of polymath Leonardo Da Vinci’s great works known in the English art world as “The Lady with an Ermine.” Pascal Cotte studied the work over the course of three years utilizing a novel technology involving reflective lighting to render some surprising elements to the five hundred year old painting.

Pascal is a co-founder of Lumiere Technology in Paris which invented Layer Amplification Method. The technology involves projecting a series of intense light onto the painting, analyzing the reflections captured by cameras, to reconstruct each of the stacked paint layers.

In an interview, Pascal stated:


“The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what’s happening inside and behind the different layers of paint. We’ve discovered that Leonardo is always changing his mind. This is someone who hesitates – he erases things, he adds things, he changes his mind again and again.”

Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, offered his expertise at the revealing of each of the portraits:

“What Pascal Cotte is revealing in France is remarkable.

It tells us a lot more about the way Leonardo’s mind worked when he was doing a painting. We know that he fiddled around a good deal at the beginning, but now we know that he kept fiddling around all the time and it helps explain why he had so much difficulty finishing paintings.”

lady-with-ermine-sublayer-bLeonardo is endlessly fascinating, so getting this intimate insight into his mind is thrilling.

The Lady with an Ermine depicts Cecilia Gallerani of the Milanese Court. She is the mistress to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan who was Da Vinci’s main patron for eighteen years. The duke’s nickname was “The White Ermine.”

What is clear from the underlying portraits is that the painting changed notably during its creation by the inclusion of the ermine then the change to the color if its coat. Art for Art’s Sake is certainly attributed to the great artists who are renowned for their pursuits, but pleasing the one who pays the bills is often paramount.

By Darren Smith

Source: BBC News

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

21 thoughts on “Scientists Reveal Hidden Portraits Within Renowned Da Vinci Painting”

  1. Darren, whether the darkening of the background was by the artist or by a restorer, it was a good move. I’d like to see more paintings in series like this one. The contrast of the three is really interesting to see how a master starts with a ho-hum portrait (see, even the great ones don’t always turn out good stuff on first try) and makes the changes that make it a great work.

  2. Bettykath. I believe there was a restoration that might have been performed when the painting was in Poland that darkened the background. I don’t remember for sure. Your observations are certainly a good insight.

    1. The original Mona Lisa was ‘ruined’ during a restoration. In fact, art historians are still fighting over the restoration of the Sistine Chapel.

  3. how man7y realize that the mona lisa is actually leonardo di vinci dressed as a woman ? hence the secret smile but hey dont let me spoil history

    1. shakingmyhead – yes that is a theory by someone who needed to publish or perish at some university. However, they have found a student’s painting of the same woman in the same pose, probably done at exactly the same time. Some art historians are bat s**t crazy.

  4. Paul C. Schulte

    The artist David was known to charge people to be …
    PC the S copiyeth and pasteth …

    1. And just where did I copy and paste from? Could we see a cite? Talk is cheap.

  5. Note how the dimension of the hands changes through each stance of the portrait. Also, the shading becomes more pronounced, lending depth to the caress of the hand on the animal, as well as the content and serenity of her face.

  6. It’s not unusual for artists to paint over other paintings or to change paintings over time when they see that something is lacking in the vision that they had in mind. This new technique will allow us to see how an artist worked and to read his/her mind in the process of the work of art.

  7. Aaaand one more point, making the background blue darker than the shawl blue brings the figure forward, a good move.

  8. One more point. In the first rendering, her lovely face is lost. After all the changes, her face is the focal point.

  9. There are several changes to the portrait and each one improves it from a so-so design to one that is great. In the first (bottom), the amount of red and blue are about the same with the horizontal line between the two colors at the vertical halfway point. The addition of the blue shawl changes the color proportion to be more pleasing, but the darker shawl keeps the color interesting. The proportion change is further enhanced and the big area of red is broken up by bringing the hand into the vertical golden mean. It also provides a gentle off-vertical line of skin tone which divides the left and right “halves” into golden mean proportions at the top and bottom. The addition of the ermine may have initially been to suck up to his benefactor, but the change in color and the change in position (right front leg) adds tension and makes the ermine more real.

    1. Karen – I think the ones that are really fun are the ones that you can see where they have completely moved the head to change the look of the painting.

  10. Portrait painters who functioned as photographers would later, had a more time intensive job. They charged by the complexity of the portrait. The least expensive would be the head, then increase with the bust, to the full body. The arm, legs, and hands would increase the price as they took more time. This is where the expression, “It cost and arm and a leg.” comes from. Someone with well articulated hands and showing the full body, obviously, was someone of wealth and/or importance. A good example of family money is ‘Blue Boy’ by Gainsborough. The rich merchant’s son’s portrait is full size, two arms, two legs, but only a partial hand. If the merchant had paid more the artist would have articulated the hands.

  11. Italian artists always know what puts food on the table. Leonardo was a genius and a pragmatists. A rare combo.

  12. Leonardo Da Vinci was also the inventor of the machine gun. Do I need a gun permit for this thing?

    1. Jerry – was that just one of his designs that were not built in his lifetime?

  13. The artist David was known to charge people to be in his group portraits. No pay, no show. Actually, if you paid you didn’t even have to be there. So, as a result his portraits of major historical events are not considered accurate. 🙂

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