Counting Mona Lisa’s eyelashes

Although in his case it was precocious — he was just 11 — Pascal Cotte did what is fairly normal, and fell in love with the “Mona Lisa” at first sight. The encounter took place in their shared hometown, Paris, where Cotte was born and where Leonardo da Vinci’s 1502 painting lives in the Louvre, under bulletproof glass, in a 1951 oak frame, guarded intensively and always surrounded by big crowds.

But unlike the millions of “Mona Lisa” fans in the world who take a hard-earned look and move on, Cotte — president of Lumiere Technology and inventor of multi spectral cameras — continued an intense affair with the “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo.”

Many years after that initial rendezvous, Cotte returned to the Louvre for an extraordinary private meeting with the Mona Lisa; she was out of her frame, out from under the glass and ready to be photographed.

Cotte and the results of his amazing ultraviolet-to-infrared photographic analysis are on display at San Francisco’s Metreon through Jan. 6, a highlight of a show called “Da Vinci: An Exhibition of Genius.”

In addition to a whole slew of new information about the painting, Cotte also offers a wonderful replica of his experience of the “naked Mona Lisa” — a perfectly faithful reproduction of the object, front and back, no frame, no glass.

While typical digital cameras have a range of definition from 5 megapixels (millions of pixels) to 10 megapixels, Cotte’s camera has a definition of 240 megapixels. He has subjected the painting to deep-penetrating spectral analysis. Among the results is finding one eyelash on “Mona Lisa’s” upper lid, thereby proving that her no-eyebrow-no-eyelash look is the result of the paint’s deterioration, not of an artistic decision by da Vinci.

Other findings reveal the exact nature of the poplar board that served as da Vinci’s “canvas.” Also, there is proof that signs of “Mona Lisa’s” supposed illness are simply a matter of varnish placement. New facts about her hands emerge, including proof that the right index finger was not completed by da Vinci.

The new “Mona Lisa” section completes the large DaVinci exhibit, which presents scores of reproductions of da Vinci’s codices, machine inventions, plans for the “ideal city” and his centuries-early models for flying machines, 20th-century weapons and present-day optical tools. Signs and audio guides provide detailed information throughout the show.

Da Vinci: An Exhibition of Genius

Where:Metreon, 101 Fourth St., San Francisco.

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; extended through Jan. 6

Tickets: $19.50 general, $15.50 for children 4-12

Contact: (877) 536-8497 or www.davincithegenius.com

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