Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is often the work most frequented and photographed by those on a Louvre guided tour. There is something about this painting at the Musée du Louvre in Paris that makes it interesting to even today’s audience. First, there is the Mona Lisa Smile. A couple of years back, people could not make out whether Lisa del Giocondo was happy or sad. However, scientific research confirmed her smile was a sign of happiness.
Another debate linked to this piece is the “Mona Lisa Effect”, which describes the impression that the portrait model’s eyes follow those of the observer, as the latter move in position. However, a recent study by German researchers suggests something to the contrary – the “Mona Lisa Effect” does not in fact happen with its namesake; hence this is a misnomer.
“Curiously enough, we don’t have to stand right in front of the image in order to have the impression of being looked at – even if the person portrayed in the image looks straight ahead,” said co-author Sebastian Loth. “This impression emerges if we stand to the left or right and at different distances from the image. The robust sensation of ‘being looked at’ is precisely the Mona Lisa effect. The effect itself is undeniable and demonstrable but with the Mona Lisa, of all paintings, we didn’t get this impression,” added the researcher.
The research paper was published in the “i-Perception” journal. The team of researchers from the Bielefeld University asked a group of people to look at the portrait on a PC monitor, and assess the direction of Lisa del Giocondo’s gaze. A folding ruler was placed between the screen and the participants at several distances. The people pointed out where the gaze of Mona Lisa met the ruler.
The team used different sections from Mona Lisa, starting with her head to the nose and eyes to test whether her face’s individual features influenced the observer’s perception of Giocondo’s gaze.
The researchers gathered over two-thousand assessments, and nearly every measurement suggested the model’s eyes are to the right of the viewer, and not straight on.
The researchers noted, “Thus, it is clear that the term “Mona Lisa effect” is nothing but a misnomer. It illustrates the desire to be looked at and to be someone else’s centre of attention – to be relevant to someone, even if you don’t know the person at all.”