The smile of Mona Lisa has intrigued humanity since the painting was created by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 16th century – and a recent study has cast doubt on the authenticity of her smile. A research team suggests that the smile was non-genuine because of its asymmetry.
“Our results indicate that happiness is expressed only on the left side. According to some influential theories of emotion neuropsychology, we here interpreted the Mona Lisa asymmetric smile as a none genuine smile, also thought to occur when the subject lies,” write the authors.
The study was published in the April 2019 issue of the journal Cortex. A teacher at in neurology and rehabilitation medicine at the UC College of Medicine, Luca Marsili was the lead author of the paper.
He and his colleagues; Lucia Ricciardi of St. George’s University of London, and Matteo Bologna of the Sapienza University of Rome; questioned 42 people to judge which basic emotions were expressed by the two chimeric images of the left and right sides of Mona Lisa’s smile – a chimeric image is a mirror image of just one side of the smile. 39 out of 42 participants felt that the left hald of the smile displayed happiness while none thought the right side showed it.
According to the study, a genuine smile causes the checks to rise and muscles around the eyes to contract. It is called a Duchenne smile – named after 19th century French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne. On the other hand, the asymmetric smile, also known as a non-Duchenne smile, “reflects a non-genuine emotion and is thought to occur when the subject lies”.
“Considering it is unlikely that a person who sits motionless for hours to be painted is able to constantly smile in genuine happiness, the simplest explanation is that the Mona Lisa asymmetric smile is the manifestation of an ‘untrue enjoyment’ in spite of all the efforts that Leonardo’s jesters used to make in order to keep his models merry,” reads the research. “An alternative intriguing possibility, however, is that Leonardo already knew the true meaning of asymmetric smile more than three centuries before Duchenne’s reports and deliberately illustrated a smile expressing a ‘non-felt’ emotion.”
“While the Mona Lisa smile continues to attract attention of its observers, the true message it conveys remains elusive and many unsolved mysteries remain to be elucidated, perhaps via the knowledge of emotion neuropsychology,” the researchers conclude. The authors speculate that the Mona Lisa’s smile might hide a cryptic message given da Vinci was aware of the meaning of an asymmetric smile.
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