By Peter Mikelbank
Updated February 03, 2011 03:15 AM

No wonder she’s smiling.

Having claimed in December he would soon disclose the 500-year mystery of who had served as the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa, researcher Silvano Vinceti made his findings known at a press conference in Rome Wednesday: she is actually a he.

Specifically, Vinceti says, the painting is of da Vinci’s long-term young male assistant, who was called Salai (real name, Gian Giacomo Caprotti) and who allegedly owned the prized portrait when he died in 1525.

Vinceti, who heads Italy’s national Historic Properties Evaluation Commission, called the relationship between the two men “ambiguous” but suggested they were lovers. The researcher also claims the painter left clues in the eyes of the Mona Lisa, linking himself with Salai.

Leonardo’s painting of St. John the Baptist and a drawing called “Angel Incarnate” were also based on Salai, who “was a favorite model for Leonardo,” Vinceti told a group of foreign journalists. These works, portraying a slender youth with long dark curls, bear striking similarity to the nose and mouth of the Mona Lisa, he claims.

“Leonardo certainly inserted characteristics of Salai in the last version of the Mona Lisa,” said Vinceti.

Louvre Dismisses Claim

In Paris, where the Mona Lisa (or “La Gioconda”) receives more than 1.7 million visitors annually, Vinceti’s claims were quickly dismissed by the Louvre. The painting “was subjected to all laboratory tests available in 2004 and 2009,’ museum officials announced and no letter or digit – as Vinceti claimed as providing the clues – was detected during these examinations.

In December, Vinceti announced discovery of minute initials – a tiny L for Leonardo and an S for Salai – hidden within the portrait and uncovered by Italian researchers using CSI-type techniques.

Only the museum doesn’t buy that. It said, “Aging of the painting on wood has caused a great number cracks in the pictorial material which are the origin of numerous forms which are often the subject of over-interpretation.”

Replied Vinceti, who now proposes a collaboration between himself and the Louvre: “I understand their disbelief and their surprise. The bottom line is that this is the most studied painting in the world.”

He also said, “The Mona Lisa must be read at various levels, not just as a portrait.”