Historian Claims to Have Solved a Mona Lisa Mystery

Bridge above subject's shoulder still stands in Tuscany, says Silvano Vinceti
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2023 11:02 AM CDT
Historian Claims to Have Solved a Mona Lisa Mystery
In this Oct.23, 2019, file photo, tourists wait to see the "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre in Paris.   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

Few eyes gazing upon Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa likely notice the tiny bridge painted just above the subject's left shoulder, on the right side of the painting. But that piece of architecture stood out to Italian historian Silvano Vinceti, who believes he's identified it as a still standing, though heavily damaged bridge in a small Tuscan town. That's a matter up for debate. As the Guardian reports, enough keen-eyed observers have focused on this bridge within the painting's idyllic Italian countryside background to result in numerous theories about its location.

Some claim it's the Ponte Gobbo in the Piacenza town of Bobbio. Others say it's the Ponte Buriano near the Tuscan town of Arezzo. But Vinceti says he's certain it's the Ponte Romito, a bridge dating back to at least 1198, which lies just 8 miles west of Ponte Buriano in Laterina. Why so sure? Partly because, as Vinceti told reporters in Rome on Wednesday, the Ponte Romito once had four arches, just like the bridge in the painting. In contrast, Ponte Buriano and Ponte Gobbo have more. Ponte Romito has only one arch at present. Aside from foundations, that's all that's left of the Etruscan-Roman structure that once stretched across the Arno River, per the Guardian.

But it was "a very busy, functioning bridge" between 1501 and 1503, when da Vinci is believed to have been working on Mona Lisa and spending time in the Arno River valley south of Florence, says Vinceti. According to the historian, the artist served the cardinal Cesare Borgia and statesman Piero Soderini in the region at that time. Laterina Mayor Simona Neri says Vinceti's theory had caused quite a stir in the town of 3,500, per the Guardian. She jokes that there will now be "rivalry" with nearby Arezzo, where a sign has been erected at the Ponte Buriano telling of its supposed connection to Mona Lisa, and that "we'll need to put a poster up, too." But, more seriously, she's calling for funding to protect her town's historic structure.

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Whichever bridge is pictured in the Mona Lisa, the painting's subject didn't likely sit in front of it. The background was "a motif, a mere representation of the countryside, one that may have been hanging in da Vinci's studio," as Pacific Standard once reported, based on a study indicating small differences in the backgrounds of Mona Lisa and a sister painting done by one of da Vinci's pupils were the result of the artists sitting at different distances from the motif. Read more on that here. (More Mona Lisa stories.)

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