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Mona Lisa smile due 'to very high cholesterol'


The intriguing smile of the Mona Lisa was the result of very high levels of cholesterol, according to a medical expert who has studied famous figures in Renaissance art.

The facial expression - one of the main reasons why the 16th century painting is among the most famous works of art in the world – shows signs of a build up of fatty acids around the eyes of the subject , according to Vito Franco of the University of Palermo.

The Italian scientist says the model in the oil painting had a xanthelasma – a subcutaneous accumulation of cholesterol – in the hollow of her left eye and a fatty tissue tumour.

It suggests very high levels of cholesterol in the model, thought to be Lisa del Giocondo, a member of a Florence family who married a cloth and silk merchant.

Franco also claims to have identified a genetic bone tissue disorder, Marfan syndrome, in two other Renaissance figures: the subject for Botticelli's Portrait of a Youth, which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the subject for Parmigianino’s Madonna with Long Neck.

Franco told the Italian newspaper, La Stampsa: "The people depicted [in art] tell us about their vulnerable humanity, independently of the awareness of the artist.”

He added that Michelangelo’s appearance in the foreground of Raphael's The School of Athens suggests he suffered from “an excess of uric acid, typical of those afflicted by renal calculosis”.

This was possibly because the artist had been living off nothing but bread and wine while working on the Sistine Chapel, Franco said.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]