Even those with only casual knowledge of classic fine arts would perhaps remember enough to know about one of the most famous paintings in the world, one worked by the famous Italian Renaissance master artist and know-it-all Leonardo da Vinci. One name for it is La Gioconda, but humanity in general probably knows this painting best as the Mona Lisa. The portrait is famous for the subject’s enigmatic smile and eyes, said to follow the viewer around the room. Other portraits have replicated this optical illusion, dubbed the “Mona Lisa effect”. But now researchers have determined that, while the effect is real, the actual Mona Lisa does not have it.
CNN has it that a team of scientist from Germany has discovered that Leonardo da Vinci’s immortal painting of a noblewoman from Florence in 1503-6 did not possess the optical illusion that was named after it, the Mona Lisa effect. This optical illusion works if the eyes of a portrait appear to be looking directly at the viewer no matter what direction or angle he views the painting from. The research team from Bielefeld University published an article in a scientific journal calculating that the Mona Lisa’s gaze is actually off-center from the viewer’s perspective.
Associate Professor Gernot Horstmann of the Bielefeld University Center of Excellence – Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) started a team study wherein he got 24 participants to examine the gaze of the Mona Lisa. This involved a participant using a carpenter’s rule 2 meters long, to measure the direction that the subject’s eyes are looking at. Following tests with the participants viewing the painting at certain conditions, the researchers determined that the Mona Lisa’s eyes are instead focused on a viewer’s right ear or over his right shoulder, rather than the general area of one’s face.
Previous studies on the Mona Lisa effect with other paintings show that a portrait’s gaze, when shifted five degrees to the right or left from its perspective, will suffice to keep the eyes seemingly locked onto the viewer and stay that way even when they change position. The Bielefeld CITEC study concluded that Mona Lisa herself is looking 15.4 degrees to her left (viewer’s right). Therefore, the lady is not looking at the faces of her audience. Horstmann and his assistant Sebastian Loth affirm that the Mona Lisa optical effect is real in other artworks; however, “It just does not occur with Mona Lisa herself.”
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