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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Da Vinci in Drag?

Coincidental to my last posting, in which one academic claims that the model who sat for Da Vinci's Mona Lisa (Louvre, Paris) had dangerously high cholesterol, now a team of Italian scientists and art historians have suggested that the famous portrait is actually a disguised self-portrait of da Vinci!

They claim to see similarities between the Mona Lisa's facial structure and that of the artist's own face as evidenced in a circa 1515 self-portrait. They also cite his homosexuality and interest in riddles as support for their theory.


The French government -- Da Vinci’s remains are at Amboise Castle in the Loire Valley – seems to be taking the research team seriously and are considering their request to open the Renaissance master's tomb and use his skull to "rebuild Leonardo's face and compare it with the Mona Lisa."

ArtInfo says, “The undertaking would have tickled Marcel Duchamp, the keen wit behind L.H.O.O.Q. (1919) -- a reproduction of the Mona Lisa embellished with a mustache. The late Modernist icon had a cross-dressing artistic alter ego himself, named Rrose S√©lavy." ( “C’est la vie” … get it …?)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mannerism or Marfans?

Vito Franco calls his new field of research "icono-diagnostics." I have to wonder: Is he just another guy trying to get his 15 minutes of fame, or is icono-diagnostics legit?

A professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Palermo, Franco claims that the model who sat for Da Vinci's Mona Lisa (Louvre, Paris) had dangerously high cholesterol. He made that diagnosis after spotting signs of xanthelasma -- a build up of yellowish fatty acids under the skin - under her left eye, as well as subcutaneous lipomas, benign tumors composed of fatty tissue, on her hands.

His study of other masterpieces convinced Franco that the young nobleman in Sandro Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man (National Gallery, Washington) was probably afflicted with Marfan syndrome. Franco believes that the young man’s unnaturally long, thin fingers are a tell-tale indicator of the rare condition that affects connective tissue and can result in a sudden, early death.

But I’m skeptical when he suggests that the long-fingered hands of the woman who posed in the 1530s for Parmigianino's Madonna With the Long Neck (Uffizi, Florence) indicate that she too suffered from Marfans. Parmigianino was a Mannnerist painter and Mannerists were all about exaggeration. In fact, Wikipedia says, “Mannerism makes itself known by elongated proportions” and that very same Madonna With the Long Neck is shown as an example of mannerist artificiality!

On the other hand, Franco seems more credible when he suggests that Dutch magical realist Dick Ket unwittingly traced the progression of his illness in his work. Ket, who died of a congenital heart defect at the age of 37 in 1940, left behind 40 self-portraits. One of these, painted in the year before his death, shows the artist with swollen fingertips, a common side effect of several heart and lung complaints. "In a painting seven years before, his fingers are less deformed," Franco said. "But it shows an abnormal swelling of the veins on his neck -- a sign of the same syndrome, in its initial phase."