An Italian art detective claims that Leonardo da Vinci used both a female and a male model to create the face of one of the world’s most famous paintings, the ‘Mona Lisa’.
He says the first model was Lisa Gherardini, known as Mona Lisa del Giocondo, and his second model was his long-time apprentice and lover, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known as Salai.
Silvano Vinceti, head of the research group the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, based his findings on infra-red examinations of the Mona Lisa.
“There is one indisputable element of proof which can be seen, with the use of infrared technology, in the first layer of the painting of Mona Lisa,” he explains. “In that layer we can see that she was not smiling and joyful but looked melancholic and sad.”
Story has it that Gherardini looked sad at the sittings and her husband, a Florentine silk merchant who had commissioned the painting, hired clowns to try to make her smile. His efforts failed and Leonardo had to use another model to satisfy her husband’s requests. The investigative team compared Salai’s features from other Leonardo paintings to those of the Mona Lisa.
“We have used all the paintings in which Leonardo used Salai as a model and compared them to the Mona Lisa and certain details correspond perfectly,” says Silvano Vinceti. “So, he used two models and then added creative details, that came from his own imagination. I believe that this goes with a long-time fascination of Leonardo’s, which was the subject of androgyny. In other words, for Leonardo, the perfect person was a combination of a man and a woman.”
What’s believed to be the remains of Lisa Gherardini were discovered last year by researchers excavating under a centuries-old convent in Florence. The bones, which included a femur, are believed to date back to around the time she died, in July 1542, at the age of 63.