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It may be the best known portrait ever produced. It was created between 1503 and 1506 by Leonardo da Vinci, crafted in oil on a wooden board. It is known as “Mona Lisa,” but for centuries art historians have expressed uncertainty over the identity of the subject. This week, however, German researchers believe the mystery has been solved. Veit Probst, the director of the Heidelberg University Library, stated in an interview with the German radio network Südwestfunk that it was now “confirmed” that the figure in the painting is the wife of a Florentine merchant, Lisa del Gioconda. The radio report is summarized in the current issue of the Hamburg newsweekly Der Spiegel.
The painting, which hangs in the Louvre, has long been labeled “La Gioconda” based on reports from the sixteenth century linking da Vinci to Lisa del Gioconda as his “favorite.”
Probst was previously the head of the Heidelberg University Library’s manuscript department. That’s where he came across an incunabulum (a primitive sort of print) which contained a marginal notation of its owner, a handwritten indication of the identity of the person portrayed. The owner of this print was also established–he was a contemporary of Leonardo’s and knew him.
The discovery was published for the first time in an exhibition catalogue at Heidelberg University. Probst has also prepared a scientific essay on the discovery which is set to be published in three weeks.
Writings on the portrait in the past have speculated that “Mona Lisa,” with her world famous smile, was an unknown mistress of da Vinci’s or that it was a coded self portrait of da Vinci himself.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.
Average number of bacteria living in a pound of U.S. mud:
Canadian doctors saved a baby from drowning in his own drool by using Botox on his salivary glands.
A black bear named Pedals, famous for walking upright on his hind legs through Rockaway Township, New Jersey, was reported killed by a hunter, and a hiker in California was attacked after he interrupted two bears mating. It was a “pretty good bear attack,” said the local police chief.
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"She never thanked me, never looked at me—melted away into the miserable night, in the strangest manner I ever saw. I have seen many strange things, but not one that has left a deeper impression on my memory than the dull impassive way in which that worn-out heap of misery took that piece of money, and was lost."