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Mona Lisa 'was Italy's legendary woman warrior'

A GERMAN art historian claims to have solved one of the greatest mysteries of the Renaissance by discovering the identity of Mona Lisa.

Magdalena Soest (56), from Leverkusen in Germany, believes that Leonardo da Vinci based his famous portrait on a young, adventurous beauty who was known as Caterina Sforza.

Frau Soest believes that da Vinci based his painting on a portrait of Sforza, the Duchess of Forli and Imola, that was painted by the Italian master Lorenzo di Credi 15 years earlier. "I wholeheartedly believe that she is one and the same person," Frau Soest, a respected artist and consultant to museums in Germany, said.

Germany's biggest-selling daily newspaper 'Bild Zeitung' yesterday compared the two portraits. There is an obvious likeness, but Frau Soest said that detailed studies she had undertaken of the nose, hair, lips and cheek structure led her to believe that Mona was Caterina.

Born the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and the wife of a follower of the Duke in 1462, Caterina Sforza was a legendary figure in Renaissance Italy, a beautiful woman celebrated for her courage and known as "The Virago". At 15 she married Girolamo Riario, whose uncle was Pope Sixtus IV.

The Pope gave the couple the titles of the cities of Forli and Imola, but when he died in 1484 the Riarios failed in a bid to install their own candidate as his successor, despite Caterina and a band of soldiers storming one of Rome's greatest citadels, the Castel Sant'Angelo.

She overcame the murder of her husband, then that of a lover, then the death of her second husband, Giovanni Medici, but could not resist the rise of the Borgias, who seized her cities in 1500. She was imprisoned for a year, then released. She died in 1509 at the age of 46.

Leonardo loved his Mona Lisa so much that he carried it with him for many years, until it was sold to Francois I of France. ( The Times, London)

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