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Why Da Vinci’s faces were so perfect

Scientists may have unlocked the mystery behind artist Leonardo Da Vinci’s perfect faces, like the Mona Lisa using a technique called ‘sfumato’.

art and culture Updated: Jul 16, 2010 18:37 IST

Scientists may have unlocked the mystery behind Leonardo Da Vinci’s perfect faces, like the Mona Lisa.

Philippe Walter, of the Laboratoire du Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musees de France and his colleagues conducted a first time quantitative chemical analysis on seven paintings from the Louvre Museum.

Da Vinci’s paintings are especially fascinating for a range of subtle optical effects that blur outlines, soften transitions and blend shadows like smoke.

The technique, called ‘sfumato’, indicates not just his genius, but also of technical innovations at the beginning of the 16th century.

MonalisaThe scientists concentrated on the study of the faces because they have the characteristics of the sfumato.

They used a technique called X-ray fluorescence to determine the composition and thickness of each layer in nine faces.

The team also found that the ‘shadowy effect’ in Da Vinci’s paintings characterized by a technique (the use of glaze layers or a very thin paint) and by the nature of the pigments or additives.

In the case of the glazes, thin layers of 1 to 2 micrometers were applied to obtain a total thickness of no more than 30 to 40 micrometers.

The study is published today in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

First Published: Jul 16, 2010 14:53 IST