Art restorers warn against giving the 'Mona Lisa' a brighter smile
Friday 03 June 1994
Pictured left is the way she looks today. Even those opposed to restoration agree that the layer of varnish has darkened to such an extent that colours beneath the surface have been obscured. But restorers warn that touching the painting risks losing subtle detail. Such is its fragility that the minute tonal shifts, the modelling and the shading - around the nose and eyes, for example - could vanish with the varnish.
Michael Daley, of ArtWatch, the conservation watchdog body, said: 'If shading and modelling around the mouth is lost, it is irreplaceable. No restorer can match the artist. To risk damaging that smile is a terrifying prospect.'
Jacques Franck, a French art historian who learnt of the restoration plans, said any cleaning could destroy sensitive parts in the flesh zones, less than a millimetre thick. He has studied Leonardo's sfumato technique, which with the most delicate brushwork achieved the subtle blending of light and shade and contours.
He explained that Leonardo used to finish his paintings with an extremely fine glazing and that when the protective, finishing varnish was applied, pigments in the glazing 'migrated' into the finishing varnish. He said: 'How do you remove the varnish without removing the pigment?'
Ironically, the fading is nothing new. In 1625, a visitor to the French court observed how the dress of the Mona Lisa was 'covered so badly with a certain varnish that it cannot be observed too well'. He continued: 'In spite of all the harm the picture has suffered, the face and the hands are so beautiful that whoever looks at it is brought under its spell.' Plus ca change.
Illustration: Jonathan Anstee
Leading article, page 18
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...
£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...