“Mona Lisa” And Her Prehistoric Ancestor

The world’s oldest known portrait, the ‘Ice Age Mona Lisa’, is currently on show at the British Museum – and the parallels with Da Vinci’s masterpiece are fascinating. To wit: ‘Analyzed, lionized, romanticized, satirized, mythologized, canonized, commercialized. The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world by far, yet – even after 500 years – still she remains unknowable. Much of her fame, indeed, rests on her alluring inscrutability. “She’s older than the rocks among which she sits,” raved the Victorian aesthete, Walter Pater. “Like the vampire, she’s been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave.”’

‘Much of her mystery stems from that smile, which seems to come and go at will and has been interpreted endlessly and variously over the centuries. In recent years, clinical anatomists at Yale have explained it as the glow of early pregnancy; Dutch scientists, in turn, have applied “emotion recognition” computer software and revealed it to be 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry.’

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