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Did Leonardo paint his initials in Mona Lisa's eye?

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.
/ Source: Discovery Channel

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.

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.

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.