A researcher claims tiny letters are painted in the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic portrait

By Sara Hammel
Updated December 13, 2010 01:15 PM

In a new claim worthy of Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, an Italian researcher says he’s found tiny letters painted in the Mona Lisa’s eyes that might finally lead to the model’s real identity.

Researcher Silvano Vinceti used high-resolution images to probe deep into the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic portrait, and says he’s on his way to discovering who sat for the Renaissance artist (her identity has been disputed over the years).

“Invisible to the naked eye and painted in black on green-brown are the letters LV in her right pupil, obviously Leonardo’s initials, but it is what is in her left pupil that is far more interesting,” Vinceti, the chairman of the Italian national committee for cultural heritage, told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

He also said he found the letters B or S, or possibly the initials CE, another clue as to who the woman was. Some have identified her as Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant.

Vicenti is courting controversy by disagreeing she was the model; he says Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in Milan.

“On the back of the painting are the numbers ‘149’, with a fourth number erased, suggesting he painted it when he was in Milan in the 1490s, using as a model a woman from the court of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan,” Vinceti said.

For any doubters, Vicenti points out Da Vinci’s love of cryptic communication.

“Leonardo was keen on symbols and codes to get messages across, and he wanted us to know the identity of the model using the eyes, which he believed were the door to the soul and a means for communication,” he said, adding there is still more to be found in the painting.

“Under the right-hand arch of the bridge seen in the background, Leonardo also painted 72, or L2, another possible clue,” he said. “Two expert painters we consulted on this tell us that all these marks, painted using a tiny brush and a magnifying glass, cannot be an error.”

He says he plans to reveal his conclusions next month.