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The pair of Mona Lisa paintings that I restored have been hanging at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon for the last three weeks. That has given me the opportunity to guide about thirty people, one at a time, through the mysterious experiences, before and after the regular Sunday services. It takes several minutes for each person, and less than half can do the cross-eyed 3D visualization of the side-by-side paintings, but several have really enjoyed the experience. Everyone was able to see the more famous effect, that of having “her eyes follow you as you move.” This was not the usual “eye-following” effect that any picture will have if the painting’s eyes are pointed at the viewer. Mona’s eyes are not pointed at the viewer; if the viewer is standing well back from the painting, her eyes are pointed over one’s right shoulder. Because the painting in the Louvre museum in Paris is smaller than life-size, and is behind glass, and behind a guard rail, it is impossible to get up close enough to get the “real” Mona Lisa experience.

Mona Lisa in Paris, France

Detail of the Louvre Museum’s painting of Mona Lisa. Click for bigger.

What I have been guiding people through with my Mona Lisa will give them the “willies” most of the time. I illustrate the procedure by doing it myself, so they can see what I’m talking about. You can probably get the effect by following the procedure outlined below.

When looking at the image of Mona Lisa on a 25-inch screen (clicked on to expand), she becomes life-size, and it makes a difference how close to the screen my face is when viewing her. When I am more than four feet back she is looking over my right shoulder, but when I am closer than one foot from the screen she is looking into my eyes. That is, her right eye, (on my left) is usually looking into my right eye, but her left eye is also looking into my right eye. As I move from being close to the screen to further and further back, her gaze shifts from my eyes to further to my right side, and further into the distance behind me. And, as I come close again she shifts her gaze back into my eyes. As I repeat doing this, there is a time, while I’m moving back and forth, closer and further, where she is looking inside of me and thus into the back into my head. This is the time when I get the willies, because she seems to be looking inside of my mind, and knows my inmost secrets. She knows what I don’t know. She is mysterious herself, but she seems to know everything about everything, and everybody, and me.

Napoleon Bonaparte is reported to have had this painting in his bedroom, and he probably had these experiences, because when he would walk across the room to get close to her and have a conversation with her, Mona’s eyes would shift away from the background and over to him. I think that is where the legend of her eyes following the viewer comes from, and it’s not the usual eyes always looking at you effect that you get from any picture that is looking at the camera, or painter. In the companion Mona Lisa now in the Prado museum in Madrid, which was painted at the same time, she is looking at the painter, and so her eyes are always on the viewer.

The eerie effect from the Paris Mona Lisa is that her eyes shift over to you as you walk toward her.