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Mona Lisa 'was in poor health'

7th January 2010

An Italian scientist claims that the enigmatic facial expression of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa reveals the sitter was in ill health.

For centuries, art critics have speculated about the real reason for the Mona Lisa's famous smile but Vito Franco of the University of Palermo has suggested that it could be a sign of very high cholesterol.

The expert told Italian newspaper La Stampa that the picture, thought to be of 16th-century Florentine Lisa del Giocondo, provides evidence the model has a subcutaneous accumulation of cholesterol, known as xanthelasma, under her left eye.

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

The scientist also claimed that Michelangelo's appearance in Raphael's The School of Athens suggests the artist suffered from renal calculosis, which could have been caused by his poor diet when working on the Sistine Chapel.

Last month, Raphael's Head of a Muse broke the record of GBP 8.1 million for an Old Master drawing sold at auction when it was bought for GBP 29.2 million.

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