It sounds a little too much like a plot from Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
But Silvano Vinceti, president of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage assured London's Daily Mail that he is confident the microscopic letters and numbers he discovered in the Mona Lisa's eyes, too small to be seen with the naked eye, are not a mistake and purposefully put there by the artist. The right eye is thought to contain the letters L and V, while symbols in the left are still under debate. "It is very difficult to make them out clearly but they appear to be the letters CE, or it could be the letter B", Vinceti adds, "In the arch of the bridge in the background the number 72 can be seen or it could be an L and the number two."
And, much like the storyline from the 2003 bestseller, the find is steeped in controversy and debate.
Many see the discovery as another thrilling find in line with what we already know about da Vinci. The artist was famously secretive, often using code to deliver messages, even going so far as to write his notes in such a manner that they could only be read when held up to a mirror. The Mona Lisa held particular significance for da Vinci, and he is said to have taken it with him wherever he went. There's even a theory that the work is really a self-portrait of da Vinci as a woman. As one Daily Mail commenter put it, "This is just more proof that Leonardo da Vinci was the Chuck Norris of artists."
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Some speculate the L and V represent the artist's hidden initials, as Renaissance painters were not permitted to sign their work. The problem is that surnames as we know them today would not have had the same significance in the 16th century. The last part of a person's name made reference to his or her city of origin (da Vinci meaning "from Vinci," a town in Tuscany). What's more, Leonardo da Vinci is actually a modern day abbreviation of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. Then again, LDSPDV is a lot to fit in a pupil. We'd go with LV as well.
Skeptics feel it's too far a stretch to see a miniature code in a 500 year-old painting that's been restored countless times. Could simple magnification really reveal what X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry could not? And why are we just finding this now, after centuries of decay?
Only Mona Lisa knows for sure. Maybe that's why she's smiling.