Was Mona Lisa a man?
ROW: Portrait may show da Vinci's gay lover, claims expert
A male apprentice, long-time companion and possible lover of Leonardo da Vinci was the main influence and a model for the Mona Lisa painting, an Italian researcher has claimed.
But Silvano Vinceti said the portrait also represented a synthesis of da Vinci's scientific, artistic and philosophical beliefs.
Because the artist worked on it at various intervals for many years, he was subjected to different influences and sources of inspiration, and the canvas was full of hidden symbolic meanings, he said.
"The Mona Lisa must be read at various levels, not just as a portrait," Mr Vinceti said.
The male model is one of many theories that have circulated over the decades about the identity of Mona Lisa and the meaning for her enigmatic smile.
Others have said the painting was a self-portrait in disguise, or the depiction of a Florentine merchant's wife -- the latter drawing a consensus among scholars.
The portrait is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known as Salai, worked with da Vinci for more than 20 years starting in 1490. Mr Vinceti described their relationship as "ambiguous" and most art historians agree Salai was the artist's lover.
Several da Vinci works, including St John the Baptist and a lesser-known drawing called Angel Incarnate, were based on Salai, Mr Vinceti told a news conference.
These paintings show a slender, effeminate young man with long auburn curls.
Mr Vinceti said similarities with the Mona Lisa's nose and mouth were striking.
"Salai was a favourite model for Leonardo," he said. "Leonardo certainly inserted characteristics of Salai in the last version of the Mona Lisa."
It is not the first time that Salai's name had been associated with the Mona Lisa, though some scholars expressed scepticism. Pietro Marani, an art historian and da Vinci expert, called the theory "groundless".
Mr Vinceti said other influences may have affected da Vinci. He does not rule out that Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, may have provided an early inspiration.
Further inspiration may have come from noblewoman Beatrice D'Este, who was married to Ludovico Sforza, the duke of Milan at whose court da Vinci worked in the late 15th century.
Mr Vinceti said da Vinci often would see the woman while he was painting The Last Supper in Milan.