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A woman of mystery, under the microscope

Mona Lisa to get special checkup

PARIS -- Is the Mona Lisa headed for surgery?

Leonardo da Vinci's 500-year-old painting of the woman with the mysterious smile will go under the microscope and be X-rayed for the first time in a half-century to determine what's causing it to warp.

The world's most famous portrait, painted in Italy over several years beginning about 1505, has long been known to be fragile. The oil sits on a half-inch poplar board that has undergone many nips and tucks over time.

Last week, the Louvre Museum said warping was discovered during a recent routine check and announced a new study of the painting. The examinations will be done when the museum is closed -- allowing da Vinci's masterpiece to remain on public display.

Vincent Pomarede, chief curator in the Louvre's department of painting, said the study will help determine whether past repairs did more harm than good -- and whether new work is needed. "We are going to use the chance to examine it in ways that we've not been able to in previous years," he said, adding that high-tech microscopes would be used as well as X-rays, last taken in the 1950s.

Nearly all 6 million visitors to the Louvre each year see the Mona Lisa. It reportedly has enjoyed an increase in American visitors due to Dan Brown's best-selling novel, "The Da Vinci Code."

Pomarede says he's not too worried about the painting in the long run.

"Leonardo da Vinci worked brilliantly, and he knew perfectly well the evolution of materials," he said. "She's 500 years old and if we preserve her properly she will still be there 500 from now."

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