The Secret Of Mona Lisa’s Smile

For hundreds of years, art critics have mused over why the Mona Lisa‘s smile seems so mysterious. Now the Harvard neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone has a fascinating answer: It’s because Da Vinci painted her face in colors that play tricks on the eye.

Livingstone’s work has long examined the way that different cells in the visual system process different types of information, such as form, color, depth and movement. When she analyzed the Mona Lisa, she found that Da Vinci painted her smile almost completely in low spatial frequencies, and these are best picked up in your peripheral vision. The result, as she notes on her web site, is a nifty illusion:

These three images — [pictured above!] — show her face filtered to show selectively lowest (left) low (middle) and high (right) spatial frequencies.

So when you look at her eyes or the background, you see a smile like the one on the left, or in the middle, and you think she is smiling. But when you look directly at her mouth, it looks more like the panel on the right, and her smile seems to vanish. The fact that the degree of her smile varies so much with gaze angle makes her expression dynamic, and the fact that her smile vanishes when you look directly at it, makes it seem elusive.

Interesting, yes?

16 responses to this post.

  1. That’s Impressive.. very intriguing indeed.. I know DaVinci is a genuis


  2. Posted by greyshorts on May 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Very .


  3. Posted by Nymphadora on May 9, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    this guy is one genius dude that will never stop impressing the world with his ideas and intelligence 😉


  4. Very interesting

    thank you


  5. he’s not genius nor intelligent, he’s jus dyslexic and he seen things in a different way “kinda like 3D” and thas how he drew her!


  6. Interesting track of thought..


  7. Posted by Sushi on May 10, 2008 at 4:34 am

    blasha, excuse me but he IS a genius! That’s one thing for sure- Dyslexic or no Dyslexic. A9lan that gives him all the credit for it.


  8. Posted by Nymphadora on May 10, 2008 at 5:32 am

    blasha looool
    ok ok a dyslexic genius 😀 😀 can it be better ?! :p


  9. Yeah very interesting indeed! True genius indeed..


  10. do you guys actually think he did it on purpose :/ i bet you its by chance


  11. @OpeRon

    He’s one of my favorite painter out there. I cannot help but to try and figure out the symbolism of his arts.




    I’m surprised by the amount of work and analysis that’s been published since this day. His inspiration is phenomenal.


    Thank you 😉


    Don’t you think that’s a little harsh? C’mon, give the guy some credit at least 😛


    7ada interesting.


    Thank youuuuuuuu for the support.


    I’m glad someone else agree with me.




  12. Posted by timmy on January 5, 2009 at 4:28 am

    did any one notice that the mona lisa looks a lot like jesus in the last supper??


  13. Posted by Soofyah on December 7, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Well i have to agree that he is a genius and thanxxxxxxx so much for telling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I mean that i think we all agree that it was pretty creepy, the way she looks at you and everything!!!!!!


  14. Posted by Tony on January 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    It is a painting of jesus christ as a woman, thats why the painting became so famous.Jesus was androgynous means he had male and female principles in him.Anybody who has seen paintings of jesus will feel familiar with mona lisa.Leonardo’s goal in creating an image of jesus as a woman was to balance out the famous image of jesus as a man .If you dont believe me just cover the mouth in the painting and see yourself.Thats why he made her smile like that.


  15. Posted by emma on July 11, 2010 at 3:02 am

    It’s just that ? Mona Lisa’s mystic smile was because Da Vinci painted her with colors that plays tricks with the eyes?
    Darn!Her smile was very intriguing,it’s like she knows something and that gives me a fuss.


  16. Posted by CurtisVic on August 22, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    CurtisDilydronlenrerlofize CurtisDeeteSaxEnrosseOriet CurtisQuowjanIcedeeseensug CurtisTapeadawaybinaextins


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: