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How Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa

X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy has been used on the Mona Lisa, revealing the secret behind how Leonardo da Vinci, using rudimentary pigments in 1503, created such subtle shadows and light on the painting.

Da Vinci used a renaissance painting technique called “sfumato,” mixing thin layers of pigment, glaze and oil intricately to yield the appearance of lifelike shadows and light. The technique is well known and has been employed by other artists over the years. But only now have scientists been able to analyze just how intricate da Vinci’s layers are.

They believe da Vinci used up to 30 layers of paint on his works. But altogether they only add up to a thickness of less than 40 micrometers of paint — about half the width of a human hair. Details were reported Friday by several news agencies.

The scientists were able to beam X-ray technology at the paintings without even removing them from the museum wall.

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