Leonardo’s secret in the hands of Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is undoubtedly the most famous painting in the world. It is exhibited in the Louvre in Paris. In spite of the existing numerous known facts about the painting, there is a sense that something is still missing. What is the meaning of the picture? What is the meaning of Mona Lisa’s smile? What mystery is hidden in her eyes? Who is the person in the painting? When was it painted? Who was the painting made for? These are just some of the many questions to which scholars have not provided an unequivocal answer, regardless of the thousands of pages written on the subject. Considering numerous attempts to interpret the painting in a variety of unorthodox ways, each new attempt gives rise to suspicion. Moreover, the mere mentioning of Leonardo da Vinci by non-scholars instigates doubts. I hope that the text presented here will not reinforce such suspicions. On the contrary, I hope the text will help in the further exploration of this and other works of art by Leonardo da Vinci. I also hope that, in the future, geometry will be used to a greater extent in the exploration of Leonardo’s works of art and thereby fulfil his wish often mentioned in our day and age:
Let no man who is not a Mathematician read the elements of my work.[1,2]
When Leonardo mentions mathematics he primarily has geometry in mind. The answers to some of the previously mentioned questions, particularly regarding the meaning of the painting, are offered on this site. Geometry proved to be of great assistance in finding answers to these questions although knowledge of it is not required for understanding them.
The understanding of mathematics in The Middle Ages differed substantially from the way it is comprehended today. The function of mathematics was to connect the earthly and the heavenly. That is why the relationship toward polygons or whole numbers, for example, was one of respect. The same is visible in Leonardo’s paintings. Along with unavoidable geometrics whole numbers were also an important factor in his paintings. These numbers are usually associated with years that are meaningful to the person in the picture, whether it’s the age of the person at the time of painting or something else. For example, according to my analyses, in the geometric construction of The Last Supper Leonardo used number 33, namely, the age of Jesus at the time of the Last Supper. It was also his age at the time of his death on the cross. The numbers were incorporated into the paintings mainly through the application of the Polaris Diagram, meaning that the presentations are invisible and only rarely visually presented. I believe the number that is built into the painting of Mona Lisa more than once is the number 56. At least one visible presentation of the number is built in the painting as well as at least two invisible ones by way of the Diagram. Only the explanation of the visible presentation is presented here.
I believe that one visible presentation of the number 56 is expressed through Mona Lisa’s hands.
The connection between Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan priest, and Leonardo da Vinci in the period from 1499 to 1506 is well known. Luca Pacioli was an excellent mathematician. Among the numerous books he published, it is important to mention here his book Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita, printed in Venice in 1494. Leonardo da Vinci had the book. There is an illustration in Summa… which deals with the art of counting or expressing numbers with the fingers and the hands. The illustration is divided into four columns. The first column contains the numbers 1 to 9, the second one the numbers from 10 to 90, both expressed with the left hand. The numbers 100 to 900 are expressed in the third column and the numbers 1000 to 9000 in the fourth column, both with the right hand. Viewing the principle according to which the expressions of fingers are drawn by columns, it can be observed that the first and third columns are completely symmetrical, namely, mirror each other. So, for example, the expression of number 7 by the left hand corresponds to the equal expression of number 700 by the right hand. Taking into consideration the same principle, the second and fourth columns are also symmetrical except in the expression of numbers 60 and 6000. Viewing the expressions within the second and fourth columns, differences can be observed between the expressions of numbers, 20 and 50, 60 and 80, 1000 and 6000 and 9000, as well as 200 and 5000 which are so small that differentiation becomes difficult. However, it is important for the topic considered here to note that differences do exist.
In the illustration, number 6 is expressed with the left palm and raised thumb, curved ring finger and outstretched remaining fingers. Number 50 is also expressed with the left palm, gently overlaid thumb and outstretched remaining fingers. Comparing these drawings with the hands of Mona Lisa, it can be concluded that the position of the fingers in the painting correspond to the numbers 6 and 50. Namely:
Without such considerations and posing the question: Which number is expressed by the fingers (?), it is difficult to come to number 56. It is much easier if we ask the question: Can the position of the fingers express number 56?
Mona Lisa’s hands are, together with her head, surely the most outstanding visual shapes in the painting. The positioning of number 56 in Mon Lisa’s hands gives that number exceptional importance in the interpretation of the painting’s theme.
Without doubt Leonardo da Vinci could have chosen such a presentation of number 56 with fingers in order to provide a simpler interpretation. But, he obviously wanted to conceal the message in such a way to make it seem that there was no message at all.
Such an interpretation of the presentation of number 56 distinctly connects the painting Mona Lisa with the illustration in Summa… Leonardo da Vinci conceived riddles but also gives instructions for solving them. That is why it is reasonable to ask whether an additional trace exists that would justify the connection between the painting and the illustration. It would appear that indications in favour of that do exist.
In 2004, Lumiere Technology from Paris, a firm specialized in the digitization of works of art, scanned the painting Mona Lisa. Thirteen scans of 450 MB each were made. The art historian Silvano Vinceti studied the scans. In 2010 he published his findings, stating that he found the following in the painting:
The findings gave rise to various interpretations. I am not inclined to any interpretation which connects the letters with the initials of Leonardo da Vinci or anybody else. I consider that Leonardo’s possible initials could be placed in the painting only if they meant something else too.
It is possible to find several photos not bigger than 60 MB (a retouched photo is bigger) of Mona Lisa on the website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mona_Lisa. On the photos with the highest resolution it is possible to distinguish the number 72 under the bridge, the letter L in Mona Lisa’s right eye but nothing in her left eye. Such findings could generally correspond quite well with the above described interpretation of number 56.
The experts from the Louvre Museum who carried out the research on the original painting disputed the findings of Silvano Vinceti due to the possible misinterpretation of some of the details in the painting. Namely, the research and studies carried out in 2004 and 2009 found no inscriptions, letters or numbers in the painting. The experts were of the opinion that many cracks in the paint could be misinterpreted. To date I have no other knowledge on the subject. That is why we cannot speak here of the second visual presentation of the number 56 with certainty, no matter how attractive that may seem.
There is possibly another visible presentation of the number 56 in the painting that cannot be explained with cracks. Specifically, at the height of Mona Lisa’s neck, on her left and on her right side, there are shapes painted with a very dark pigment that look like the numbers 5 and 6. The approximate size of the shapes is equal to Mona Lisa’s pupillary distance. The number 5 is located above the right arm and the number 6 above the left arm of Mona Lisa. The number 5 is horizontally oriented, and the number 6 is vertically oriented. In order to notice these numbers, no special procedures are needed; this can be seen on a picture of average technical quality in a book or on a monitor. It is only important to know that the numbers are written in mirror, the way Leonardo da Vinci used to write. In the Mona Lisa mirror image the number 5 can be seen very clearly, more clearly than the number 6. It should be added that the number 5 is located above the right hand of Mona Lisa, the hand which expresses number 50, and the number 6 is located above the left hand, the hand which expresses number 6 too.
In 2006 the book Mona Lisa, Inside the Painting (Jean Pierre Mohen and others, Abrams, New York) was published. It was produced after extensive technical tests performed on Mona Lisa in October 2004 and April 2005. Among other things, the aforementioned Lumiere Technology digitized the painting with the help of a special multispectral camera. The resulting scans have enabled the simulation of the painting’s appearance depending on the light source, e.g. exposed to daylight or cloudy light or to candle lighting or similar. The numbers 5 and 6 are best visible in the figure that presents colour simulation on the paint layer lit by cloudy daylight. While the number 6 is concealed because of the mirror look, because of the vertical writing, because of the compatible background and because of the proximity of Mona Lisa’s dark hair, the number 5 is highly visible, despite the mirror look.
Despite the fact that described shapes are relatively large, they are not particularly noticeable. It is not easy to notice numbers 5 and 6 to someone who doesn’t look for them in the painting. Furthermore, it could be concluded that instead of the number 6, the number 9 is shown. But both digits are easily recognizable to someone who knows that the number 56 exists in the painting. Also, due to their position and due to the mirror-writing, these numbers could be regarded as the number 65, not 56. But then again, knowing about the existence of the number 56 in the painting, it would be difficult to argue that these shapes express anything but just that number. Therefore, I consider that any other proof of the number 56 in the painting includes the treatment of these shapes as another visible presentation of the number 56.
It is not known to me if there is a direct way of finding out the meaning of number 56 in the painting Mona Lisa. That is why an indirect approach is offered here which I think is appropriate.
The general opinion is that Leonardo painted Mona Lisa according to an agreement with her husband, Francesco del Giocondo, that is, that Francesco del Giocondo commissioned the painting. It is considered that Leonardo began the painting in 1503 although experts differ greatly as to the year of its completion. The earliest estimates are somewhere around 1506. There is no knowledge of any type of agreement regarding the painting or facts about the painter’s fee. It is also unknown whether the painting was ever delivered to the client or paid for. There are no facts regarding any demands the client might have had toward the painter. However, it is known that the painting was in Leonardo da Vinci’s possession at least until 1518 and most probably until his death in 1519. Although it was not the only painting in Leonardo’s possession till the end of his life, it is indicative of the importance the painting had for Leonardo. Generally speaking it is quite logical to keep valuables for oneself. That is how Leonardo’s possession of the painting can be interpreted. However, the fact that Leonardo da Vinci created a masterpiece with Mona Lisa can be viewed as his particular interest of making precisely this painting exceptional. If we look at it this way, the painting was predestined to be a masterpiece. It seems that there was a special motive to paint this picture. No personal reasons are apparent for such a relationship toward the painting, however, the existence of precisely such reasons distinctly come to the fore.
After leaving Milan, Leonardo da Vinci settled in Florence in 1500. It is known that he continued painting but without real enthusiasm. At that time geometry was primarily in the focus of his attention. In early 1503, commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo he began to paint the portrait of his wife. It is unusual and unknown why Leonardo da Vinci was so preoccupied with geometry at that stage of his life. It is also unknown whether he made any new discoveries. It is also unusual and unclear why he accepted the offer to paint Mona Lisa and did not accept undoubtedly financially more favourable offers. Money was evidently not the decisive factor.
Lisa Gherardini was born in 1479 in Florence and died in the same city in 1542. When she was fifteen she married Francesco del Giocondo and became Lisa del Giocondo, better known today as Mona Lisa. She gave birth to her first child in 1496, the second one died at childbirth and the third was born in late 1502. Francesco and Lisa had more children. Lisa was Francesco’s third wife. Both previous died either at childbirth or immediately after giving birth. At that time the death rate of mothers and new born children was exceptionally high. Death was evidently a frequent visitor in Francesco del Giocondo’s home. I believe that precisely this fact and Leonardo’s view that Lisa would also die soon were the reasons why Leonardo accepted the request of her husband to paint Lisa’s portrait. An important role was certainly played by the beauty of Mona Lisa as a model. Spending time with Mona Lisa while painting her, entertaining her with music and stories, he could get to close to her and possibly sense the shadow of approaching death, in its visible form. Leonardo’s intuitive sense of approaching death might seem strange, but it should be kept in mind, for instance, that Leonardo da Vinci conducted anatomical research in order to find the dwelling place of the soul, which might also seem strange. There are numerous notes of his on the subject.
The book of letters by Marcus Tullius Cicero was published in 1477 in Bologna. A copy of the book is kept in the Universitätbibliothek in Heidelberg. There are numerous notes on the margins of the book by the Florentine official Agostino Vespucci, one of Niccolo Machiavelli’s associates. In one of them, from October 1503, Agostino Vespucci spoke of the same painting method practiced by the Greek painter Apelles, as described in Cicero’s letter, and Leonardo da Vinci in the Mona Lisa and other paintings. Namely, both Apelles and Leonardo da Vinci would first paint the head of the portrayed person and then the body. This is not the only historical source from the period in which Leonardo da Vinci is compared to Apelles.
Apelles is considered by many to be the greatest painter of Antiquity. However, none of his works have been preserved. Only written traces have remained about him and his works. Leonardo da Vinci was aware of his own painting superiority in his time and therefore it is quite plausible that Apelles himself became his painting role model. There are numerous anecdotes from Apelles’s life in which his exceptionally painting skills are mentioned. In one of them it is mentioned that he painted such lifelike portraits that one of those individuals who were called physiognomists and who could predict people’s future according to their facial features, could also predict the year of death of the portrayed person or else the age of person at the time of the painting. It has already been mentioned here how Leonardo da Vinci integrated, through Polaris into his paintings, significant years in the lives of the portrayed persons, usually their age. Taking into consideration the similarities in the painting methods and similarities in inserting the age of the portrayed person in the painting, its seems logical to conclude that Leonardo da Vinci would incorporate in his painting the predicted year of someone’s death, such as Apelles did, naturally, on condition that he believed he knew it.
Two books of Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts entitled Codex Madrid I and Codex Madrid II are kept in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana in Madrid. Codex Madrid II consists of 157 sheets. It begins with manuscripts from approximately 1503-1505, sheets 1-140. The manuscripts pertain to military fortifications, geographical maps, geometry, etc. A booklet from the period 1491-1493 was added to the manuscripts, sheets 141-157, whose content is linked to Leonardo’s rendition of the monument of Francesco Sforza on horseback. Leonardo never succeeded in making the monument. There is a sentence (crossed out) at the top of page 141r of the Codex Madrid II which reads:
O Moro, I shall die if with your goodness you will not love me, so bitter will my existence be.[7,8]
Under this sentence there is another one which mentions technical details on the execution of the statue of the horse. The following, third text reads:
If I could not make.
If I …
In connection with the texts, the following is apparent:
Due to all the above I believe Leonardo wrote the first and third texts subsequently. I am of the opinion that the texts were written after it was completely certain that the monument would not be erected. I believe it could have been after 1500, namely, after the French have definitely ousted Luduvico Sforza and after it became certain that Ludovico Sforza would no longer be the Duke of Milan.
Martin Kemp found some interesting details in the first sentence (text), such as the repetition of the word “moro” (or similar order) 5 times in it. (O moro, io moro se con tua moralita non mi amori tanto il vivere m’ea amaro). Leonardo was partial to such constructions, but I believe that in this case the real meaning of the sentence was concealed. The question also remains why was the sentence crossed out?
The bronze monument of Francesco Sforza on a horse was to be the largest equestrian monument ever erected at that time. If it had been erected it would have been a magnificent monument to the sculptor as well, namely, Leonardo da Vinci. If the epitaph is connected to such a work, it is logical to assume that Leonardo thought about the monument to Francesco Sforza at the time, primarily as a monument by which he himself would be remembered. What is common in the first and third texts is the distinct or indirect mention (of his own) death, once through I am dying and the second, through the Epitaph. I consider these texts to be arguments regarding the conviction held by Leonardo at the time of his near death.
The time of writing the first part of Codex Madrid II coincides with the time of painting Mona Lisa. Given my assessment of the time of writing the first and third texts, and considering the content of the text, I am convinced that the texts on page 141r were added directly prior to painting Mona Lisa or at the beginning of work on the painting.
I consider useful mentioning here a Leonardo’s sentence from the book Leonardo on the Human Body;
Give the measurements of the dead [subject] in fingers.
In the same book it is mentioned that Leonardo, when performing anatomical studies, used to measure the viscera of a dead person with his fingers. In the context of the treated subjects it is interesting to note that in the latter case too, the numbers are connected, through measurements, with fingers of a person and thereby with death.
For a clearer overview, all the previously mentioned findings and claims are briefly listed:
Leonardo’s anticipation of his and Mona Lisa’s approaching death at the time of painting Mona Lisa or immediately prior to it is the only link between Leonardo and Mona Lisa. I believe this to be precisely the theme of the painting. Such a claim gives rise to the question: Where is Leonardo in the painting? Among the numerous interpretations of the Mona Lisa there are some which find similarities in the facial features of Mona Lisa and Leonardo’s portrait made in red chalk and kept in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin. Lillian Schwartz’s claim fits here perfectly since she considers that she has indisputably proven that Leonardo used himself as a final model for the painting of Mona Lisa. That would mean that the portrait of Mona Lisa is in effect also Leonardo’s portrait! In that case it would be easy to link number 56 with Leonardo’s anticipation of his approaching death. For that reason it is possible to compare Leonardo with Apelles once again. Namely, in 1503 Leonardo was 50-51 years old. Aware of his slowness in executing a painting, aware that a very demanding task was at stake and bearing in mind the possible problems in finding a model or some other possible issues, it was completely logical that he began with the work a few years before the date of his anticipated death. Supporting these considerations is the fact that in 1503 Mona Lisa was 23-24 years meaning that the number 56 can in no way be associated with Leonardo’s anticipation of her approaching death. These deliberations necessarily give rise to the question of the purpose of such a double portrait, more precisely, the question of the purpose of the portrait of Mona Lisa. After all, Leonardo could bring to fruition his painting skills and the application of Apelles’s painting method by only painting his own portrait. It is the same with the use of Apelles’s style of painting. Why did he not? I believe that besides the previously mentioned reasons, the beauty of Mona Lisa is important for answering the question. If he wanted to make a painting by which he would be remembered, isn’t the portrait of a beautiful young woman the logical option? A masterpiece, after all, is primarily a monument to the author. Isn’t this precisely the case with Mona Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci?
I believe that, taking into consideration all that has been presented above, it can be concluded with considerable certainty that the theme of the painting Mona Lisa is primarily related with the anticipated death of Leonardo da Vinci at the age of 56. Furthermore, the painting represents Leonardo’s tombstone, namely, something he expected he would be remembered by. Mona Lisa, as a model, was chosen because of Leonardo’s anticipation of her approaching death and because of her beauty. I consider that the painting was certainly finished before April 15 1508, Leonardo’s 56th birthday.
It is reasonable to ask why Leonardo did not make (maybe he did, but it remains unknown to date) his belief of approaching death explicitly clear? Or else, why are we unaware of any outward manifestations of such a belief? I believe Leonardo’s sentence:
As a well spent day brings easy sleep, so well used life brings easy dying.[14,15]
gives an appropriate answer.
The facts that Leonardo da Vinci died at the age of 67 and Mona Lisa at the age of 63, of course, have no impact on anything previously written.
The previous article encourages some new views on Mona Lisa’s smile. I believe that in the interpretation of the smile it is important to take into consideration Leonardo’s inclination toward ambiguity as well as the three important elements that exist in this interpretation.
I believe that the smile is primarily a reflection of Leonardo’s tendency towards perfection in presentation. Deeply aware of his artistic possibilities, he wanted to incorporate his very best in this painting.
There is no doubt that knowledge of the secrets contained in this painting is hidden behind the smile too. Some of those secrets have been presented here. The generally accepted perception of Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile leads to such a conclusion.
Convinced in the approaching end of his earthly life, the smile also represents the acceptance of his destiny. It is a smile that views fate as a meandering road or the flow of a river, as something self-evident.
 The ventricles, valves and papillary muscles, Royal Library (RCIN 919118v), Windsor Castle.
 Jean Paul Richter, The notebooks of Leonard da Vinci, vol. I, Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1970, p. 11.
 Summa de arithmetica geometria. Proportioni: et proportionalita: nuouamente impressa in Toscolano su la riua dil Benacense et unico carpionista laco amenissimo (…). (Toscolano) : (Paganino), (1523). ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 9080 q, http://dx.doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-9150 / Public Domain Mark.
 Frank Zoellner, Leonardo da Vinci: The complete paintings, vol. I, Taschen, Koeln 2011, p. 154.
 http://1stmuse.com/alex3/apelles.html, May 2017.
 Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid II, 141r), Madrid.
 Martin Kemp, Leonardo da Vinci: The marvellous works of nature and man, Oxford University Press Inc., New York 2006, p. 150.
 Idem, p. 196.
 Leonardo da Vinci, Leonardo on the human body, Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1983, p. 338.
 Miscellaneous notes and anatomical sketches, Royal Library (RCIN 919070v), Windsor Castle.
 Leonardo da Vinci, op. cit. (note 10), p. 390.
 http://lillian.com/, May 2017.
 Castello Sforzesco (The Codex Trivulzianus, 27r), Milan.
 The translation from Croatian: Boško Kontić.