Geologist Uncovers Possible Location of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Lake Como’s Lecco

Featured & Cover Geologist Uncovers Possible Location of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in Lake Como's Lecco

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most enigmatic paintings in history, raising questions about the identity of the figure and her mysterious expression. Recently, one of the painting’s secrets might have been uncovered, according to an Italian geologist.

Ann Pizzorusso, a geologist and art historian who specializes in Leonardo and the Renaissance, claims she has pinpointed the location depicted in the Mona Lisa through her geological expertise. Thirty years ago, Pizzorusso visited Lecco, a town on the southeastern shore of Lake Como in Italy, suspecting it to be the backdrop of the famous painting. She retraced Leonardo’s steps using his diary entries and drawings. “In his notebook, he mentions being in Lecco,” Pizzorusso shared in a phone interview with CNN. “He was working as an engineer.”

Although the project Leonardo was working on in Lecco was canceled, his geological field sketches survived. One such drawing, in red chalk, shows a mountain range near Lecco and is part of the Royal Collection at Windsor, London.

Pizzorusso is not the first to propose a location for the Mona Lisa’s background. In 2011, an art historian suggested the scenery was from Bobbio, while another pointed to Arezzo. However, Pizzorusso claims she is the first geologist to make such a claim. She argues that previous theories focused on the arched bridge over Mona Lisa’s right shoulder, but she believes the unique rock formations in the horizon are more revealing. “Bridges are fungible,” she stated. “If you look in the background, you’ll see pinnacles. It’s a type of erosion that happens in limestone that has fractures in it and breaks off in blocks, almost like a sawtooth pattern… We can show limestone exists in (Lecco). When you look at the Mona Lisa, there’s a series of mountains in the background that have this sawtooth pattern.”

Moreover, Pizzorusso suggests that the body of water behind Mona Lisa is Lake Como, a subalpine glacial lake dating back about 10,000 years. “If you look behind her you have the elongated glacial lakes that have a particular form like fingers,” she explained. “Because when the glacier moved it scoured out certain pieces of land.”

Despite her conviction, Pizzorusso kept her theory to herself for 30 years, only discussing it casually with other Leonardo scholars. She recently returned to Lecco, still confident that “everything added up,” and plans to present her findings at a geology conference in the town.

Pizzorusso argues that combining earth science with art history can enhance our understanding of Leonardo’s work. She pointed out that other Renaissance artists, like Botticelli and Michelangelo, often neglected their backgrounds because they prioritized their figures. “If the background is painted right, it gives you more of an appreciation for nature,” she said. Pizzorusso also expressed surprise at the widespread interest in her findings. “Maybe (Leonardo) was trying to channel me for the environmental movement or something,” she joked. “It’s a testament to how much people love this painting.”

However, identifying Lecco as the Mona Lisa’s setting could raise more questions than answers. If Leonardo did indeed choose Lecco, the mystery deepens as to why he picked that particular location for the portrait. “We don’t know who (Mona Lisa) is; some believe she was a rich Tuscan merchant’s wife,” Pizzorusso mentioned, referring to a common theory that the figure represents Lisa Gherardini, an Italian noblewoman. “Why did he put her in this wild, untamed environment? This is not Tuscany. What was he trying to tell us by putting this serene, enigmatic lady in this rugged, alpine environment?”

Pizzorusso is captivated by the potential message behind Leonardo’s choice. “I’m really intrigued as to what his message was to us,” she mused.

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