Friday, December 16, 2005

And now, from the "Just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art" files and The Brandon Sun...

(Photos of the enigmatic Mona Lisa...from left to right...came from:,, and Enjoy them!)

Sudiegirl sez: Well, just when I think folks are doing something insignificant like inventing vaccines or working toward world peace, here come some scientists who turn the art world on its ear by actually surmising that Mona Lisa was HAPPY?!?!?! Pretty soon, the world is gonna blow up, I tell ya! There are some things humans were not meant to know, and Mona Lisa's true feeling is right up there. You know what I'm a gonna do...

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

Scientists uncover reason for Mona Lisa's smile: she was happy
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -

The mysterious half-smile that has intrigued viewers of the Mona Lisa for centuries isn't really that difficult to interpret, Dutch researchers said Thursday. (Well, tell that to all the Ph.D candidates that have studied it for years. Better yet, tell it to Nat King Cole!)

She was smiling because she was happy - 83 per cent happy, to be exact, according to scientists from the University of Amsterdam. (That's a pretty exacting figure. Is that the new standard? Can I now call in and say, "Sorry, boss...can't come to work today. I'm only 42% happy.")

In what they viewed as a fun demonstration of technology rather than a serious experiment, the researchers scanned a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece and subjected it to cutting-edge "emotion recognition" software, developed in collaboration with the University of Illinois. (I've heard of this software. Isn't it called A MIRROR? Wait...that'd be hardware. Never mind. Plus if you break it it's 7 years bad luck. Does Bill Gates know about this?)

The result showed the painting's famous subject was 83 per cent happy, nine per cent disgusted, six per cent fearful and two per cent angry. She was less than one per cent neutral, and not at all surprised. (Ah...will this be a key ingredient in men and women understanding each other? "Honey, you appear to be about 70% happy. Was it something I said?")

Leonardo began work on the painting in 1503, and it now hangs in the Louvre in Paris. The work, also known as La Gioconda, is believed to have portrayed the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The title is a play on her husband's name, and also means "the jolly lady" in Italian. (And thus endeth the lesson for today. Amen.)

Harro Stokman, a professor at the University of Amsterdam involved in the experiment, said the researchers knew the results would be unscientific - the software isn't designed to register subtle emotions. So it couldn't detect the hint of sexual suggestion or disdain many have read into Mona Lisa's eyes. (Call me an artistic blasphemer, but she looked bored to me. Is that wrong?)

In addition, the technology is designed for use with modern digital films and images, and subjects first need to be scanned in a neutral emotionless state to accurately detect their current emotion. ( since we didn't have that with the "jolly lady", you're basically winging it?)

Lead researcher Nicu Sebe took the challenge as seriously as he could, using the faces of 10 women of Mediterranean ancestry to create a composite image of a neutral expression. He then compared that to the face in the painting, scoring it on the basis of six emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness. (Oh, OK...jumped the gun in the previous paragraph. Also, do these expressions compare/contrast with Elizabeth Kubler Ross' stages of death? They both read like the business name for a DC law firm, so who's to say?)

"Basically, it's like casting a spider web over the face to break it down into tiny segments," Stokman said. "Then you look for minute differences in the flare of the nostril or depth of the wrinkles around the eyes." Stokman said with a reading of 83 per cent, it's clear happiness was the woman's main emotion. (What if the finger was in the nostril? What if she only had one good eye? What then?)

Biometrics experts not involved with the experiment said the results were interesting even if they aren't the last word on the Mona Lisa. "Facial recognition technology is advancing rapidly, but emotional recognition is really still in its infancy," said Larry Hornak, director of the Center for Identification Technology Research at West Virginia University. "It sounds like they did try to use a data set, even if it was small, and that's typical of work in an area like this that's relatively new. It's an interesting result," he said. (Yeah, but what on earth would it be used for? Facial reconstruction? Help me out here...)

Stokman said he knew the University of Amsterdam effort won't prove or disprove controversial theories about the painting. One is that it was actually a self-portrait of Leonardo himself as a woman. "But who knows, in 30, 40, 50 years, maybe they'll be able to tell what was on her mind," Stokman said. (See my previous "bored theory" listed above.)

Hornak agreed the idea was entertaining. "It's always fun to apply technology to areas of public interest, and sometimes you can come up with results that are very illuminating," he said. (Hell, I don't care...just as long as my tax dollars weren't spent...)

Jim Wayman, a biometrics researcher at San Jose State University agreed. "It's hocus pocus, not serious science," Wayman said. "But it's good for a laugh, and it doesn't hurt anybody." (I don't know...I have a cramp in my neck, and my arms itch. May want to rethink your words there, Jim...)

Sudiegirl's final opinion?

Well, I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Personally, I don't think we're ever gonna know what Mona Lisa was thinking, so my "bored theory" doesn't look too bad, huh?

And BTW, is anyone else kind of stunned that Ron Howard picked Tom Hanks for the lead in that "Da Vinci Code" movie? I had a vision of the leading man, and as talented as ol' Tom may be, I thought someone a little different. George Clooney, maybe? (I'm biased...I know...leave me alone, it's MY blog!)

These and more questions will never be answered, but that's OK with me. I'll just keep asking till people give me money to shut up.