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Thursday, 30 April, 1998, 00:40 GMT 01:40 UK
Scientists show an eye for art
Mona Lisa's eyes
The eyes have it ... not the smile
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been found to be hiding a secret much more enigmatic than her smile.

Eye researchers in the USA have found that portraits spanning more than 600 years of art have a common link that not even the artists have been aware of.

The scientists say that when you superimpose a grid on a portrait where both eyes can be seen, one of them will almost always fall on a vertical line running through the dead centre of the picture.

national portrait gallery
Scientists analysed hundreds of works ...
The compositional principle has been adhered to by artists through the centuries no matter which direction the head is turned.

Christopher Tyler from the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco believes the pattern represents something deep in the subconscious of artists.

Writing in the journal Nature, he and his team said they had analysed hundreds of paintings to prove their theory.

Along with the Mona Lisa, painted in 1505 and hanging in The Louvre in Paris, works produced by Rogier van der Weyden (1460), Botticelli (1480), Titian (1512), Rubens (1622) and Rembrandt (1659) fit the same criteria.

Mr Tyler said: "This precision results from perceptual processes that seem to be unexpressed by the artists themselves, suggesting that hidden principles are operating in our aesthetic judgments, and perhaps in many realms beyond portraiture."

abstract painting
... some of them did not quite prove the theory
The team measured portraits from 265 artists, including many from the 20th century, in many different media including oils and watercolours.

Other features, including the mouth, showed no compositional link.

Classic texts by art historians do not mention the compositional position of eyes.

Commenting on the find, Dr Tom Troscianko of Bristol University said: "What this is telling us is that we do not understand all the rules of pictorial composition.

"The other thing is the extent that we have to look at the eye directly to get the most information out of the face.

"There's some evidence that is exactly what we do. Putting the eye at the centre makes that simpler and therefore adds to the clarity of the portrait."

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