The nuclear physicist-turned-art restorer rendered a 1 ½-hour speech titled “It Is Rocket Science?” at the Torrey Pines Rotary Club on Aug. 14, detailing the scientific research he did on two painted versions of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Mona Lisa.”
Asmus told Rotarians he was a member of a scientific team in the 1960s with San Diego’s General Atomics that was exploring the use of atomic bombs to propel a Saturn spaceship into outer space.
When that project fizzled with the advent of détente and the nuclear test ban treaty, chance — or fate — caused Asmus to redirect his energies toward exploring lasers, then an infant technology, as a possible substitute for atomic power in fueling spaceships.
Asmus began exploring new applications for laser technology, which led, ultimately, to a new career for him in art restoration.
“Twenty-three years ago, the heirs of the late Joseph Pulitzer asked me to examine a painting known as the ‘Isleworth Mona Lisa’ that was in the family collection of fine art,” said Asmus. “This invitation was extended in response to my 10-year study of the varnishes and pentimenti of the Louvre Mona Lisa.”
Noting Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of his most celebrated artworks “Virgin of the Rocks,” “Virgin and Child” and “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne,” Asmus in his Rotary speech discussed continuing speculation of the possible existence of a second Mona Lisa. Perhaps the world’s most famous artwork, countless copies of the Mona Lisa have surfaced through the ages and have been advanced as the long-lost “Second Mona Lisa,” only to be dismissed after failing scientific or historical scrutiny.
“My studies led to the conclusion that the intricate geometrical principles employed in the two paintings were identical, even though individual features are different in both size and proportion,” said Asmus. “Thus it was clear that the Isleworth portrait was not a mere copy of the painting in the Louvre.”
Subsequently, Asmus told Rotarians, the Isleworth painting has passed every scientific test available in art conservation science from radiocarbon dating to digital-image age regression.
“It has emerged that Leonardo painted the Isleworth piece around 1503 and the Louvre portrait around 1513,” he said. “This discovery settles a protracted debate among art historians as to whether Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1513. Both dates are correct, but for different paintings.”
The Rotary Club of Torrey Pines, chartered in 1964, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Led by current president Gordon Shurtleff, the club meets every Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. at Rock Bottom Brewery, 8980 Villa La Jolla Drive.
Rotary Clubs are organizations of business and professional leaders providing humanitarian service, encouraging high ethical standards and helping to build good will and peace in the world.
For more information about Torrey Pines Rotary visit www.torreypinesrotary.org.