Eye of Beholder

Eyes of Mona Lisa May Hide
Leonardo’s 500-Year Secret

So it turned out that, while we were being captivated by her smile, the real enigma of the Mona Lisa was hidden in her eyes. It’s just the latest mystery surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, of which we know close to nothing.
In fact, our five-century old fascination with La Gioconda, as it’s known in Italy where it was painted in 1503, bears pure obsession. Throughout the years, scientists have engaged in heated contests as to why she didn’t have eyebrows, whether her smile had something to do with high cholesterol, and who on earth was she. Was this the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Giocondo, a Florentine merchant, whose remains are said to be buried in a municipal landfill site on the outskirts of Florence? Or it was actually a self-portrait, a theory that somehow could shed light on Leonardo’s rumored homosexuality? There’re some who seem ready to exhume his body to check such theory.
That, of course, would depend on whether his bones are actually buried at the Amboise Castle in the Loire Valley, as it’s believed, but never mind getting permission from his legal heirs to exhume it in the first place.
It’s all a fitting, tumultuous background for a painting that has been stolen, vandalized twice, and now rests behind a bulletproof glass at the Louvre, in Paris.
Now, since Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage President Silvano Vinceti scrutinized it with a magnifying glass, a whole new set of challenges have been poised to art historians and would-be Dan Browns alike. According to Vinceti, there’s an L and a V in Mona Lisa’s left eye, and some other letters or numbers in her right one, too microscopic to be spotted without aid. The race is on to determine what do the symbols mean, whether they’re simply Leonardo’s own initials or one of the many puzzles he loved to encrypt on his paintings.
Vicenti, who’s leading the efforts to be granted authorization for Leonardo’s exhumation and whose own eye and knack to attract worldwide attention are never at loss, cleverly calls it the search for Mona Lisa’s “hidden codes.” He’s the same researcher who claimed earlier this year to have found, in a long forgotten crypt on the Tuscan coast, the bones of another Renaissance master, Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio, a painter also known as much for his lifestyle as for his masterpieces.
And so it looks like we’re in for the long haul. While advanced optical technology is bound to provide clearer imagery of the bottom of Mona Lisa’s eyes – or to disprove such theory altogether – to get to desecrate the remains of a grand master to check on their authenticity may have too few takers. And assuming there’re even bones buried in the site, the whole thing still may hit the wall if the bones turned out not to be traced to Leonardo.
Nothing that will ever happens, of course, will cast any shadows on the allure and appeal that a striking small oil painting an artist committed to canvas so long ago can instill on further generations. And no matter what new research brings about it or its author, as long as it remains protected from nutcases and deranged visitors, its mysteries will most likely outlive anyone walking the earth today. Or as someone else has once said, whatever they do, it won’t have anything to do with the beauty of Mona Lisa.

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