Video: High-res images reveal da Vinci codes?

  1. Transcript of: High-res images reveal da Vinci codes?

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: The Mona Lisa has given us a new Da Vinci code to ponder. Art historians studied magnified, high-resolution images of the famed painting, and they found the tiny letters L and V in Mona Lisa 's right eye -- believed to be the artist's initials -- and elsewhere, the letters C, B and the number 72. A mystery just as intriguing as the lady's famous smile.

updated 12/14/2010 10:51:23 AM ET 2010-12-14T15:51:23

Hidden behind the Mona Lisa's eyes is a mysterious code made of letters and numbers, according to a controversial claim by members of Italy's national committee for cultural heritage.

Magnifying high-resolution images of the world’s most famous painting would reveal hidden letters and numbers added by Leonardo da Vinci, said Silvano Vinceti, president of the committee.

“To the naked eye, the symbols are hard to distinguish, but with a magnifying glass you can see the letters LV behind the right pupil (the left when watching the painting). They could stand for his name Leonardo Da Vinci,” Vinceti told the Italian news agency ANSA.

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Even harder to decode would be the symbols in the left pupil (the right when watching the painting).

According to Vinceti, they appear to be the letters CE or simply the letter B. Other symbols would be hidden in the landscape, more precisely in the arch of the bridge.

“They seem to be the number 72, or it could be an L and the number 2,” Vinceti said.

While it is quickly spreading over the Internet to the delight of Dan Brown’s fans, the claim has not gained much support among Leonardo scholars.

“I can’t offer any comment on the scientific value of this 'finding' since the scientific basis to support it are missing,” Carlo Pedretti, the world's leading scholar in Leonardo studies, told Discovery News.

“Under the microscope, the eyes of the original Mona Lisa — not those appearing in magnifying high-resolution images — do not present any cryptic sign, such as numbers or letters, but only the craquelure (or cracking) also visible to the naked eye,” said Pedretti, who heads the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where Leonardo was born in 1452, agrees.

“Scientific tests such as non-invasive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy have revealed many interesting features, but certainly no letters and numbers,” Vezzosi told Discovery News.

“People are so fascinated by this painting that they can see everything in it,” said Vezzosi, the curator of a traveling exhibition called “Mona Lisa Is Naked,” which explores the impact of the enigmatic lady on art while gathering portraits of a half-naked women with clear links to the famous (and clothed) Mona Lisa.

Completed toward the end of the life of Leonardo, who lived from 1452 to 1519, the Mona Lisa has raised innumerable speculations.

Some, including Vinceti, claimed that the woman with the enigmatic smile was a self-portrait, Leonardo da Vinci in drag.

Others suggested that the sitter was either Caterina Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan; Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan; or Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla, a mistress of Giuliano de Medici.

In 2005, Veit Probst, director of the Heidelberg University Library, found evidence in notes written in October 1503 in the margin of a book that Leonardo’s model was Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins who married the merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

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Attempts to solve the enigma around her smile, described by the 16th-century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari as "more divine than human," have included theories that the noblewoman was happily pregnant, suffering from asthma, had facial paralysis or that the smile was the result of a compulsive gnashing of teeth.

Another disease attributed to Mona Lisa is an inherited cholesterol disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia.

The disorder is highlighted by a wartlike lesion of the skin near the left eye (the right when watching the painting) which is basically a cholesterol skin deposit called xanthelasma.

Interestingly, none of the known reproductions of the Mona Lisa feature such a skin lesion.

"We might come to the conclusion that none of the copies which have come down to us were based upon a direct confrontation with the Louvre picture, and hence were more than likely copies of copies," the late art historian James Beck wrote in a 2007 paper on the subject.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Explainer: Seven deep mysteries of history

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    FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    What happened to Amelia Earhart?

    Amelia Earhart raised the spirits of Depression-era America as she soared into the aviation record books with feats of altitude, distance and endurance. The mood took a gloomy turn, however, when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during a much-heralded attempt to fly around the world. Their fate remains one of aviation's greatest unsolved mysteries.

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    A prominent theory with tantalizing clues holds that they survived the crash landing and but perished as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the republic of Kiribati. An expedition to the island in 2010 recovered pieces of a pocket knife and a glass jar that may have belonged to the castaways. If DNA analyses on these and other items match Earhart's, the mystery may finally be resolved.

    Click ahead for six more stories of historical mysteries.

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    The legend is a harrowing tale of survival: A group of pioneers headed for California in 1846 got stuck on a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada and resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter. But the claims that they feasted on human flesh may have been exaggerated, based on an analysis of bones found in a hearth along Alder Creek, where at least some of the Donner Party passed the time.

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