In Mona Lisa’s smile, US historian sees a feminist

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It’s taken him 12 years, but an amateur art historian from Texas reckons he’s solved the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, five centuries after it was immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci.In a just-published book, “The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa,” William Varvel argues that La Gioconda was a 16th-century feminist who favored a greater role for women in the Catholic church.“La Gioconda was trying to get people to see that the New Jerusalem would be here as soon as you recognize women’s theological rights,” Varvel, 53, a former mathematics professor, told AFP in a telephone interview.“La Gioconda may be a grand statement for women’s rights,” he added.His theory joins many others — some serious, others fanciful — surrounding what is perhaps the world’s most famous painting, which draws legions of tourists every day to the Louvre museum in Paris.History remembers the Mona Lisa as Lisa del Giocondo, a mother of five born into an aristocratic Florentine family whose husband, a cloth and silk merchant, commissioned the portrait. Da Vinci, who had already painted The Last Supper for a Dominican convent, toiled on the oil-on-poplar painting from 1503 to 1506 and perhaps several years after. In his 180-page book that’s not always an easy read, Varvel explains that, in the course of his career, Da Vinci had painted “each and every verse” of the final chapter of the Old Testament’s book of Zechariah, which anticipates the rise of an ideal society within a New Jerusalem.He did so, Varvel contends, “in order to state that women’s rights to the priesthood should be recognized.”What’s more, the author said, “Leonardo constructed and placed a total of 40 separate symbols taken from chapter 14 into the background, middle ground and foreground of the composition of the Mona Lisa.” 

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