Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

SECRETS OF THE DEAD: The Mona Lisa Mystery

Louvre and Isleworth "Mona Lisa" (the latter in a mirror).
Courtesy of © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH
Louvre and Isleworth "Mona Lisa" (the latter in a mirror).

Airs Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Explore some iconic historical moments while debunking long-held myths and shining new light on past events in the series SECRETS OF THE DEAD. Advances in investigative techniques, forensic science and historical scholarship offer new evidence on forgotten mysteries.

Hers is the most famous smile in the world, visited and studied by thousands every year, a priceless work of art — the one and only "Mona Lisa."

Or is it unique? With its striking similarities to the painting in the Louvre Museum, the so-called Isleworth "Mona Lisa" has remained an art world mystery since she was found in 1912.

Re-enactment: the Louvre "Mona Lisa" is found again and being returned.
Courtesy of © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH
Re-enactment: the Louvre "Mona Lisa" is found again and being returned.

Did Leonardo da Vinci paint the legendary portrait twice? Or is the Isleworth the work of a talented forger? SECRETS OF THE DEAD "The Mona Lisa Mystery" sets out to unravel the clues.

Re-enactment: examination of the Isleworth "Mona Lisa"
Courtesy of © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH
Re-enactment: examination of the Isleworth "Mona Lisa"

In 1912, art dealer Hugh Blaker claimed that while traveling through England he purchased the Isleworth "Mona Lisa" — which seems to be a younger version of the same woman in the now-famous Louvre portrait.

In the century since its discovery, the Isleworth painting has changed hands several times, and was most recently procured in 2008 by a group of international investors who have kept their identities, as well as the price they paid for the painting, closely-guarded secrets.

Now, to determine whether the two portraits were both painted by the master himself, or if one is simply a very well-done forgery, an elite group of art historians, research physicists, restoration experts and forensic imaging specialists have gained exclusive access to analyze the Isleworth "Mona Lisa" first-hand.

Applying high-precision scientific techniques, they endeavor to determine if the pigments in the paintings are consistent with mixtures used during da Vinci’s day, verify the painting’s date, and its creator.

Re-enactment: taking a sample of the Isleworth "Mona Lisa"
Courtesy of © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH
Re-enactment: taking a sample of the Isleworth "Mona Lisa"

Accounts in several historical sources have suggested that da Vinci may have painted Mona Lisa twice. Clearly, the women in the paintings are the same person.

However, descriptions seem to point up differences between the two paintings as well, including an unfinished background and columns in the Isleworth version and missing eyebrows and eyelashes in the Louvre painting.

Can the latest scientific techniques and clues unearthed in archives finally solve the mystery of the two "Mona Lisa" paintings?

Join The Conversation:

SECRETS OF THE DEAD is on Facebook, and you can follow @SecretsPBS on Twitter.

The Mona Lisa Mystery: Preview

"Discover a portrait of a younger and more beautiful Mona Lisa that predated the famous Louvre masterpiece. In September 2012

Theft of The Mona Lisa From The Louvre

"In the summer of 1911

What Is The Isleworth Mona Lisa?

"Two years before the death of Leonardo da Vinci

Credits:

A Terra Mater Factual Studios production in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.