Mysterious mix of toxic pigments discovered underneath the Mona Lisa


PARIS, France — No title is as synonymous with the Renaissance as Leonardo da Vinci. Greater than only a painter, architect, engineer, sculptor, and scientist, da Vinci was an absolute mental titan of his age, introducing ideas and concepts that have been centuries forward of their time. Apart from his sheer brilliance, da Vinci can also be rumored to have positioned hidden meanings, puzzles, and messages into his works requiring cautious examination to determine. For instance, the golden ratio is current in plenty of his work.

Now, fascinating new analysis from the American Chemical Society has uncovered that da Vinci was doubtless experimenting with the bottom layers beneath his work. Researchers discovered that samples taken from two of his most iconic work, “Mona Lisa” and the “Final Supper,” present the painter doubtless carried out experiments with lead(II) oxide that resulted within the formation of a rare compound referred to as plumbonacrite under the paintings.

The person could have lived and died centuries in the past, however his works nonetheless encourage awe at the moment and carry a sure charisma. The “Mona Lisa” has an uncanny way of gazing back at viewers, and one can’t assist however marvel how da Vinci was sketching tanks and primitive flying machines again within the fifteenth century. Scientists and students alike have lengthy scoured his writings and artworks in the hunt for hidden clues or meanings, and lots of of his work from the early 1500s (together with the “Mona Lisa”) have been painted on wood panels that required a thick, “floor layer” of paint earlier than including the paintings.

Researchers have found that whereas different artists of the time sometimes used gesso as a floor layer, da Vinci went his personal means by laying down thick layers of lead white pigment and infusing his oil with lead(II) oxide, which is an orange pigment that may have conferred particular drying properties to the paint above.

da Vinci additionally employed an analogous method on the wall beneath his iconic “Final Supper” — which was a notable departure from the standard, fresco method predominantly used on the time. So, in an effort to additional examine these distinctive layers, Victor Gonzalez of Université Paris-Saclay, ENS Paris-Saclay, and colleagues got down to apply up to date, high-resolution analytical methods to small samples from da Vinci’s two iconic paintings.

Mona Lisa lead paint
This tiny fleck of paint, taken from the “Mona Lisa” is revealing insights into beforehand unknown steps of the artists’ course of. CREDIT: Tailored from the Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2023, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c07000

The analysis group finally carried out their analyses on a tiny, “microsample” that had been beforehand taken from a hidden nook of the “Mona Lisa,” along with 17 microsamples obtained from the floor of the “Final Supper.” Then, by way of X-ray diffraction and infrared spectroscopy methods, research authors decided that the bottom layers of the artworks not solely contained oil and lead white, however a a lot rarer compound as effectively: plumbonacrite (Pb5(CO3)O(OH)2).

This materials has by no means been seen in Italian Renaissance work earlier than, but it surely has been detected in later work by Rembrandt created within the 1600s. Plumbonacrite is simply secure underneath alkaline circumstances, indicating its formation stemmed from a response between the oil and lead(II) oxide (PbO). Notably, nonetheless intact grains of PbO have been additionally seen in many of the samples analyzed from the “Final Supper.”

Whereas painters and artists have been recognized so as to add lead oxides to pigments to encourage drying, this method has not been proved experimentally for work from the Italian Renaissance. Furthermore, when research authors searched via da Vinci’s writings, the one proof they discovered of PbO was in reference to skin and hair remedies – regardless of it being generally known as fairly poisonous these days! Nonetheless, these findings on the very least counsel lead oxides had a spot on the outdated grasp’s palette, and will have helped create among the biggest masterpieces we all know at the moment.

The study is revealed within the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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