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  • The Mona Lisa, the enigmatic painting by Leonardo da Vinci, may have been painted over a similar image of a different person, according to a French scientist. (Photo: BBC)

    Mona Lisa, the enigmatic portrait of a 16th century woman with a wry smile, may not be the person she was thought to be. A French scientist has made a startling discovery–an image from earlier paintings by the great Leonardo di Vinci.

    Pascal Cotte has been studying the 500-year-old masterpiece. He uncovered the image using a so-called “reflective light” technology, according to the BBC.

    Cotte unveiled his image yesterday, during a news conference in Shanghai.

    Essentially, the technology involves using a multi-lens camera and taking photos of the painting under very bright light. The technique reveals each layer of paint and reportedly showed another image.

    As it turns out, a reconstruction of the earlier image, shows little differences compared with the current portrait. It shows a woman seated in a slightly different profile, wearing very similar clothing. The two faces, however, are different.

    RELATED: Da Vinci Mona Lisa Mystery; Real Secret Codes Discovered

    The second image doesn’t have the wry smile that makes the Mona Lisa so special.

    (Click Photos to Enlarge!)

    What’s more, Cotte believes his finding suggests Lisa Gheradini, the 16th century wife of a Florentine silk merchant, is not the subject. If so, he upends decades of scholarly thinking.

    He added:

    “The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever. When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait, and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

    Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art historian who has studied documents linked to the Mona Lisa, told the BBC his findings parallel Cotte’s discovery. He also believes Gheradini is not the subject, according to an upcoming BBC documentary.

    He explained:

    “I think the new discoveries are like a huge stone thrown into the still waters of art history. “They disturb everything that we thought we knew about the Mona Lisa … [T]here may be some reluctance on the part of the authorities at the Louvre to think about changing the title of the painting because that’s what we’re talking about. It’s ‘Goodbye, Mona Lisa.’ She is somebody else.”

    Still, skepticism remains widespread in academic circles. “The idea that there is that picture as if it were hiding underneath the surface is almost untenable,” Oxford University Professor Martin Kemp, an expert on da Vinci told the BBC.

    The mysterious painting has been the subject of numerous examinations that have uncovered intriguing facts.

    In 2010, Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage said it detected symbols in the Mona Lisa’s eyes that were only visible through high resolution images.

    The Italian genius apparently painted tiny numbers and letters into the eyes, but their meaning remains unclear.

    Some believe the painting is Da Vinci himself, dressed as a woman.

    The genius was a fan of riddles and secret codes and his paintings formed the basis of the best selling fictional work “The Da Vinci Code.”

    Check out the photos, let us know your thoughts and be sure to follow IM on Twitter for the latest art news.