Beyond that Mona Lisa smile: Did Leonardo da Vinci create the first 3D image?


Experts have found evidence hinting that Leonardo da Vinci, famed Renaissance man, may have been the father of 3D stereoscopy. If proven, da Vinci may have another achievement to add to his long and illustrious career as an artist, scientist and engineer.

After comparing the world famous Mona Lisa to a different painting that was originally thought to be something like a "knock-off," scientists have found evidence showing that the Mona Lisa may be part of a pair of paintings. Put together, the two paintings may form the world's first stereoscopic 3D painting.

Back in 2012, scientists began investigating a different painting of the Mona Lisa housed in a museum in Madrid. Upon closer inspection, the experts found an exquisite rendition of the Mona Lisa underneath a layer of black paint. The investigators found that the painting underneath the black paint was actually remarkably similar to the original Mona Lisa housed in the Louvre. The second painting featured the same woman painting in front of the same background. Due to the similarities between the two, the researchers speculated that the second painting was the work of da Vinci or one of the his protégés.

"In case of the Mona Lisa, a quite exceptional, rediscovered studio copy was presented to the public in 2012 by the Prado Museum in Madrid," said Claus-Christian Carbon and Vera Hesslinger in a study published back in 2013. "Not only does it mirror its famous counterpart superficially; it also features the very same corrections to the lower layers, which indicates that da Vinci and the 'copyist' must have elaborated their panels simultaneously." Carbon and Hesslinger are researchers from the University of Bamberg and the University of Mainz respectively.

After comparing both paintings side by side, the researchers noted a surprising detail. Each of the paintings was painted from a slightly different perspective. By analyzing both painting's trajectories, which involved looking at the lines of perspective relative to certain points such as the line formed between the tip of the subject's nose and an observer's eyes, the researchers found obvious differences between the two paintings.

"Using infrared and X-rays, the Prado's conservators further analyzed and compared the portraits," said Carbon and Hesslinger in a new study published University of Bamberg's Experimental Psychology research group. They found that both share several corrections also in the tracing and lower paint layers why it is now assumed that the paintings were executed simultaneously in Leonardo's studio"

Put together, the two painting may form a pair meant to show a stereoscopic 3D image. Whether the effect was intentional or not, however, remains to be proven. Despite the difficulty of proving their assertions, the researchers behind the study have also noted that da Vinci was known to have an interest in 3D. Researchers and art historians have also found evidence in various inventory lists that both paintings were present in da Vinci's studio at the same time. Moreover, da Vinci was also known to own a pair of colored glasses, which he may have used for stereoscopic viewing.

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