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There's More to Mona Lisa Than Her Smile
Date:3/13/2010

Elusive expression is only part of her mysterious appeal, study suggests

SATURDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Mona Lisa's smile remains one of art's great mysteries, and many credit it with the portrait's enduring appeal.

But her expression can't explain everything, said Austrian neurologists who used computer-altered images to simulate the "Mona Lisa condition" in a new study.

"There is more to Mona Lisa than her elusive smile," concludes senior study author Florian Hutzler, a professor of psychology at the Center for Neurocognitive Research at Paris-Lodron-Universitat Salzburg.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Previous research has shown that Mona Lisa's facial expression shifts depending where you focus your gaze. If you look at her eyes, your peripheral vision sees a subtle smile on her lips, Hutzler explained.

But if you shift your gaze to her mouth, the smile disappears. Leonardo da Vinci was able to accomplish this using the sfumato technique, in which layers of paint are added on top of one another to create subtle changes in shading, but no harsh lines.

Sfumato plays tricks on the human eye. According to the researchers, "spatial frequency" is a term used to describe the visual characteristics of an object or a facial expression. High spatial frequencies represent abrupt spatial changes in the image, such as edges or fine detail, while low spatial frequencies are perceived as general shape, orientation in space and proportion.

The human eye sees high spatial frequencies when directly gazing upon something, while low spatial frequencies are perceived mainly in the peripheral vision, Hutzler explained. That's why the soft, smoky layers of shading that create the slight smile around Mona Lisa's mouth can only be viewed when you're looking her in the eyes and her mouth is blurred.

"In Mona Lisa's mouth, there is a smile hidden
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