Mona Lisa myth busted
Mona Lisa myth busted
Leonardo da Vinci’s world-renowned painting, the Mona Lisa is famed for two things: her enigmatic smile and her steady gaze, widely believed to follow her viewers around the room. But, new research suggests the second is simply a myth.
It’s common knowledge that the woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa seems to look back at observers, following them with her eyes no matter where they stand in the room. This has even inspired the name of a scientific phenomenon: the Mona Lisa effect. But this common knowledge, it turns out, is wrong. The eyes of the woman in the “Mona Lisa” don’t follow viewers.
According to research by scientists from Germany’s Bielefeld University, published in the journal i-Perception, there’s one painting that definitively doesn’t demonstrate the Mona Lisa effect: the Mona Lisa herself.
The study finds that the woman in the famed painting is actually looking out at an angle that’s 15.4 degrees off to the observer’s right – well outside of the range that people normally perceive when they think someone is looking right at them.
Gernot Horstmann, an associate professor at Bielefeld University’s Center of Excellence – Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), and Sebastian Loth, a research assistant, asked 24 participants to assess the gaze of the Mona Lisa on a computer screen.
They set a ruler between the viewer and the screen and asked the participants to note which number on the ruler intersected the womans gaze. To calculate the angle of Mona Lisa’s gaze as she looked at the viewer, they moved the ruler farther from or closer to the screen partway through the study. This provided them with two points to work with, making it possible to calculate the angle.
“Mona Lisa’s degree angle is clearly outside that range where you normally feel like you are being looked at,” Horstmann said.
So why do people repeat the belief that her eyes seem to follow the viewer? Horstmann isn’t sure. It’s possible, he said, that people have the desire to be looked at, so they think the woman is looking straight at them, even when she’s not.