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Is the Mona Lisa’s Expression Happy or Sad ?

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One of the art world’s most hotly debated mysteries may have finally been solved after 500 years.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting of all time – it’s subtle smile and captivating pose delighting generations of art lovers for the better part of five centuries. Exactly what emotion the painting’s subject is expressing however has long remained something of an enigma.

Now though, researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany believe that they may have finally found the answer thanks to a new study that involved digitally manipulating the original painting.

Twelve volunteers were each shown a series of black and white photographs of the Mona Lisa. All but one of these had been manipulated to make her appear either happier or sadder.

For each image, the participants were asked to determine what the painting’s expression was.

The findings revealed that, after shuffling the images and showing them to each participant thirty times, the real image of the Mona Lisa was deemed “happy” an impressive 97% of the time.

“We really were astonished,” said neuroscientist Juergen Kornmeier. “Given the descriptions from art and art history, we thought that the original would be the most ambiguous.”

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