The true subject of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting has long been speculated about, but an art historian now claims that the Mona Lisa may actually be a portrait of the artist's same-sex lover.
Italian art detective Silvano Vinceti, who heads a research group called the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, told Britain's The Telegraph that the Mona Lisa actually depicted both da Vinci’s male apprentice/probable gay lover, as well as the wife of a wealthy merchant from Tuscany.
“We’ve come up with an answer to a question that has divided scholars for years – who was the Mona Lisa based on," Vinceti said.
“The Mona Lisa is androgynous – half man and half woman. The painting was based on two models. The first was Lisa Gherardini and the second was Salai, Leonardo’s apprentice."
Vinceti has spent four years excavating beneath a convent in search of Gherardini's remains in an attempt to confirm his theory.
Salai, whose real name was Gian Giacomo Caprotti, was da Vinci's pupil from 1490 to 1518 and the subject of many of the artist's paintings.
Vincenti said da Vinci paintings Salai is believed to have sat for showed many similarities to the Mona Lisa.
“You see it particularly in Mona Lisa’s nose, her forehead and her smile,” he said.
There has been some previous speculation about Salai's involvement in the famous artwork. Vinceti himself made similar claims about the connection in 2011. The Louvre, which is home to the famous painting, disputed the idea at the time.
Oxford art historian Martin Kemp also discounted the new Gherardini/Salai amalgam theory.
“The infra-red images do nothing to support the idea that Leonardo somehow painted a blend of Lisa Gherardini and Salai," Kemp told The Telegraph.
Salai inherited the bulk of da Vinci's paintings upon the artist's death in 1519, including the Mona Lisa.