Is Syphilis The Reason Behind Mona Lisa's Enigmatic Smile?


For centuries, from art historians to critics, academics to curious tourists, a lot of people have been trying to discover the secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work Mona Lisa. And now there’s a new theory...

This mysterious figure, portrayed by Da Vinci in the 16th century, has always been a matter of debate; who was she? Why was she smiling like that?

The art critic Jonathan Jones, from the Guardian, has put forward a new theory on that last question. He thinks Mona Lisa was smiling (or not really smiling) like that because she had a sexually transmitted disease: syphilis!

“The lives of women in Renaissance Italy are lost in the shadows. Only in Leonardo’s portraits and a handful of other works of art do Florentine women of this period come back to life.” Jones writes.

So what does Jones base his theory on? Well, syphilis is not an illness you can look at someone’s face (or better, a hand-drawn portrait) and diagnose.

Jones' most important evidence is “a handful of documents that have survived that give glimpses of Del Giocondo’s life.”

Apparently, she bought snail water (acqua di chiocciole) from a Florentine convent’s apothecary.

Yes. Snail water. But what does that mean?

Snail water was being used in the 18th century to treat sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis.

"When Del Giocondo posed for Leonardo in 1503, syphilis was shaking Europe to its core." Jones writes.

Some says this disease was brought from the new world by Columbus’s sailors in 1492 and it spread quickly.

Is this why Del Giocondo needed snail water? If so, it is possible she wanted it for someone other than herself. In any case, her recorded purchase was more than a decade after she posed for Leonardo. But suppose she already had a sexually transmitted disease in 1503. What would that say about Leonardo’s most famous painting? he writes.

"The Mona Lisa is shown in front of a hilly landscape through which a road snakes towards distant water and mountains."

"Perhaps the far-off mountains across wide, blue water represent the new world – the source of the Mona Lisa’s secret." Jones thinks.

However, Jones admits that this theory may not be a hundred percent true.

Many people agree that there are shadows of mortality in this painting. But the mystery remains unsolved, no matter how plausible Jones’ theory is.


1 2

How do you feel?
Tears of Joy
Relieved Face
Clapping Hands
Thumbs Down
Send Feedback