Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Arguably one of the most famous paintings surrounded by the most mystery is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The identity and facial expression of the subject is one that has enchanted and intrigued art experts for over 500 years. The painting’s figure is widely believed to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine silk merchant.
It is thought that the portrait was commissioned by the Gherardini family to celebrate the birth of Lisa’s second child, Andrea.
Late last year, French scientist Pascal Cotte, revealed the work that he believes lies underneath the world-famous figure. This second image is very different from Lisa Gherardini’s pose and expression – so different that Cotte is confident that it is another woman altogether.
Not surprisingly, there has been some opposition to Cotte’s revelations, particularly from art experts who point out that commissioned portraits often have other figures below the surface. This is due to the client making requests for alterations during the process.
Cotte remains convinced that the figure underneath the Mona Lisa is of a different woman – and what’s more, he says he has found others in earlier layers of paint.
'The Night Watch' by Rembrandt
This is the famous depiction of a local Dutch militia, praised for its dark-light manipulation from the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Officially titled Officers and Other Civic Guardsmen of District II of Amsterdam, under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch or Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, it is known to most as The Night Watch.
Not only did two figures not make the crop in 1715 after it was trimmed to fit in-between two columns, but it has also survived after being subject to no fewer than three separate attacks.
The most surprising fact about this painting is that it isn’t actually set at night. The very dark background is actually a thick varnish that discolours with age and the additions of hundreds of years of dirt.
This varnish was skilfully removed in the 1940s, but although the sky is now notably lighter, the painting’s nickname seemed to stick (no doubt due to its preferred brevity).
Scholars have found that this painting was intended to be part of a set to works, designed to be displayed around the walls of a great hall. This never happened as Rembrandt’s final piece was painted in a very different style from that was originally proposed.
Although the finished look was somewhat of a surprise to all, there is evidence that the guild member who commissioned the painting were happy and still displayed the painting. Whether they noticed the little cameo appearance that scholars believe is Rembrandt’s self-portrait is unknown.
This painting has been treasured since its creation, even resulting in having its own trap door at the Rijksmuseum in the event of a fire.
David by Michelangelo
There is more that can be revealed about the statue of David than first meets the eye, honest.
Initial impressions of the giant figure, standing at an impressive 17ft, suggest confidence and strength – largely due to its sheer size. The pose in the classic Renaissance style of most of the body weight on one leg with the torso at an opposing angle. But there are subtle ways in which this sculpted portrait differ from other works from its period.
Unlike other famous artist’s depictions of this biblical event, Michelangelo’s David stands alone, rather than posing victoriously over his enemy – or even mid-throw.
The facial expression of David is one that has been interpreted in different ways. Originally placed in the public square outside the seat of the civic government of Florence in 1504, the warning glare of David became a symbol of defence. The statue was positioned to glare out towards Rome, a then rival state.
On closer inspection of the rest of the statue, the neck is tense and the veins bulge in his lowered right hand. When these observations are paired with the statue’s facial expression it could be interpreted that there is a sense of nervousness and aggression. Referring back to the notion that David stands alone, this may suggest that Michelangelo has chosen a most unusual depiction of the biblical event. This may be David before he fights Goliath – a first in art.