A group of archaeologists dig for Lisa Gherardini's skull.

Image: Archaeologists dig at the burial site of Lisa Gherardini, wife of the wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, the model who inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Mona Lisa”. Photo: Getty Images | The Telegraph

Exciting news regarding the only painting anyone can name off the top of their head: a new theory about da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa suggests that the figure in the painting is based on a young man named Gian Giacomo Caprotti, better known as Salai: da Vinci’s apprentice and alleged lover. Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, believes that the figure in the painting does bear an uncanny resemblance to the young Salai.

Vinceti re-examined infra-red scans of the painting and compared it to other works by da Vinci that did have Salai as a model. He believes the resemblance is too strong to be denied. It has already been suspected that the Mona Lisa has been hiding a second artwork underneath, but Vinceti’s theory brings the famous painting into a new light entirely.

“You see [the resemblance] in Mona Lisa’s nose, her forehead, and her smile,” he said. The artwork is perhaps an amalgam of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Tuscan merchant, and Salai. Vinceti cited other works like St. John the Baptist and Angel Incarnate, which portrays a young boy with an erection, all of which were based on Salai. “The Mona Lisa is androgynous—half man and half woman. The painting was based on two models,” Vinceti added.

Salai began apprenticing for da Vinci around the age of 10 in 1490, and he stayed with da Vinci for another twenty years. It is commonly believed that they were romantically involved.

For the past four years, Vinceti and a team have been excavating beneath an old convent, hoping to find the skeleton of Lisa Gherardini, which could provide more answers regarding the painting and whether she really was one of its models.

But not everyone in the art community is so sure of Vinceti’s analysis. “This is a mish-mash of known things, semi-known things, and complete fantasy,” argued Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford. “The infra-red images do nothing to support the idea that Leonardo somehow painted a blend of Lisa Gherardini and Salai.”

It isn’t known for certain what Salai really looked like, and though paintings he modeled for do look a lot like Gherardini, no one can say with absolute certainty that the Mona Lisa really was influenced by the young apprentice.

Lots of other theories about the painting abound—this is just the latest, and there are likely to be more.