Hidden cryptograms in the Mona Lisa of El Prado

About a year ago (at the end of April 2017), Mr. Silvano Vinceti, of the Comitato per la Valorizzazione dei Beni Storici Culturali e Ambientli of Italy, who has worked in coordination with Mr. Robert Biggi, requested my collaboration in the investigation of curious cryptograms hidden in the Mona Lisa of El Prado, Madrid.

Due to the fact that this painting has a series of messages in Spanish, I consider - as Silvano Vinceti does - that it could be painted, in collaboration with Leonardo, by a Spanish painter. Probably Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina. In my article Más evidencias sobre el segundo viaje de Leonardo a Cataluña, I explained that Leonardo made a payment of 5 gold florins in April of 1505 to Ferrando Spagnolo (Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina), who, years later - in Spain - painted some works of "leonardian" aesthetics. In addition to Italy (with Leonardo), he worked in Valencia and Cuenca (Spain).

In Más evidencias sobre el segundo viaje de Leonardo a Cataluña, I explain that Leonardo would have traveled to Catalonia in the second half of the year 1504, as revealed by the Anonimo Gaddiano (1540):

"[Leonardo] was with César Borgia [1500-1503], and later departed to France and other places [1504?, also to Spain?] [First trip]. He returned to Milan [1506], but because of the disturbances that plagued the state while working to melt the horse in bronze, returned to Florence [1507, note the confusion with his first stay in Milan], where he lived for six months at the home of the sculptor Giovan Francesco Rustichi, on Via Martelli [1507]. He returned again to Milan [1508], and then to France [1516] [second trip], to serve King Francisco ... In his will he left micer Francesco da Melzi, Milanese gentleman, all the money, the clothes, the books, the writings, the drawings, the instruments and the portraits, that is to say, everything related to the painting, the art and the industry that he had there, and he named him executor of his will ".

Note that here it says Leonardo left Italy, after his stay with César Borgia (which ended in 1503) to "France and other places." In Catalonia he probably acquired the "Catalan coat" (Catelano rosato) that he mentions in the clothing list entitled In Cassa al munistero, in the Codex Madrid II (4 recto).

There is the circumstance that Leonardo was a friend of Amerigo Vespucci, who in turn was a friend of Vicente Yáñez Pinzón (from Palos de la Frontera). This one was related (though not by consanguinity) to the Yáñez family of Palos, near Huelva. In my article Fernando Yáñez  de la Almedina: su conexión con Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, I establish that Yáñez the painter could have some family relationship with the Yáñez of Palos. In short, the arrival of the painter Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina to Leonardo's workshop in Florence, could have been produced through the mediation of his friend Amerigo Vespucci, through the navigator Vicente Yáñez.

Once established that Fernando Yáñez could have gone to Leonardo's workshop after his second visit to Catalonia, in 1504, I will focus on the painting, which would be a collaboration between the Spanish painter and the Florentine genius.

It is possible that the Mona Lisa of El Prado and the one of the Louvre were painted at the same time, since it seems that the same cardboard was used. Perhaps one of them (the one in Paris) is the one that Leonardo intended to retain for his own enjoyment, and the other (Madrid) would be the one that would satisfy the request of whoever ordered it (several hypotheses have been proposed: Francesco del Giocondo, Giuliano de Medici, etc.).


On the left, Gioconda of El Prado. On the right, Gioconda of the Louvre. Notice the red box, located in the same position in both paintings. In it are the cryptograms of which I speak next.

Let's look at the image of the Mona Lisa in Madrid. To the left of his nose, hidden by rocks, we see a human face. From my point of view, it looks like a Muslim Semite, with all the characteristics of a Hispanic Moor (a "Moor"). I must say that I discard that it is a Jew (also with Semitic aspect) because he bears what seems to be the cap used by Muslims of African and Maghrebian origin (although similar barretinos were also used in the Italy of his time) .


The "Moor" hidden in the Mona Lisa of Madrid.

In short, I think it is a Moor for three details. Because he wears a Maghrebi hat, because his lips are thick and fleshy, in the Semitic way, and because his beard is typically Muslim. I have no doubt that it is a Spanish "moro", of which there were hundreds of thousands at that time in Spain. Until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when they were expelled, they professed the Muslim religion. The Jews were expelled in 1492.

Leonardo supposedly knew the "Moors", since in his notebooks the following sentence appears (somewhat derogatory):

"When their figures are in movement, they are in a languid way, which is why they condemn the works of others who have movements and attitudes, saying they they are figures of madmen and works of Moors". (José Luis Espejo: The hidden messages of Leonardo da Vinci, page 29).

I do not know if that expression is common in Italy. In any case, only in Spain he could have known these "works of Moors". Be that as it may, the word "moro" was used in Italy, since Ludovico Sforza was called Il moro, because of his dark complexion.

As regards the cryptogram on the right, an octagonal construction appears, typical of Catalan architecture.


Octagonal construction to the right of the image

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In the Annunciation Leonardo paints a truncated octagonal tower. These ones are characteristics in the city of Barcelona (below).


Octagonal construction, typical of the Kingdom of Aragon (A). Compare with a sixteenth century altarpiece of Our Lady of Montserrat (below). 

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Triptych dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat, in the Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo.

In the museum of Santa Cruz, in Toledo, there is an altarpiece of the Virgin of Montserrat in which the church appears (lower right corner), as well as two buildings, joined by a bridge. What is curious is that the construction of the left (marked with an A in the detail study) resembles the one in the Mona Lisa of Madrid (it is octagonal).

I do not know if it is the same building, in the vicinity of Montserrat, which on the other hand I do not know if it exists or ever existed. Or if it is a stereotyped, standardized image of a fortification. Or maybe Fernando Yáñez copied this image from a similar painting. Be that as it may, the landscape of Toledo's painting is imaginary.

Perhaps the octagonal castle of the Mona Lisa of Madrid is one of those in Montserrat (there were several). Note the bridge (D), which can not be other than Monistrol de Montserrat.

I am sure that the author of the Gioconda of Madrid can only be Spanish, because in addition to the details of which I have spoken above, at least two cryptograms are visible in Spanish language, in the same place where, in the Gioconda of the Louvre, it appears another small cryptogram: the word CHE (WHAT).

What does it mean that? I answer this question in my article Non è Ise. Antipodes. El verdadero significado de La Gioconda.


In the precise place where, in the Gioconda of Madrid, a message appears in Spanish (below), in the Gioconda of Paris there is a message in Italian: CHE (QUÉ). 

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Two messages in Spanish in the Gioconda of Madrid: O FE TENÉIS, and CASTA NON C 'TNÍA (non-Christian caste he had). On the right, 3 M. The horizontal line to the right of NO represents N.

Both O FÉ TENÉIS and CASTA NON CRISTIANA TENÍA allude to the "non-Christian" religion (whether Jewish or Muslim) of the bearded character, who seems to have an "ojo a la funerala" (as if the eye had been hit). This more or less humorous detail seems to hide a criticism or protest against the Spain of his time, which was distinguished by persecution, or by discrimination (and intolerance), of those who were not "old Christians". Note that in 1492 the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews took place a few days apart.

On the other hand, the expression 3 M would refer to the 3 Mary, an allusion to the cult of Mary Magdalene very present in the work of Leonardo. See in this regard my article Leonardo y el misterio de María Magdalena, in which I deal with the Grialic and Cathar myth (arrival of Mary Magdalene in the South of France) that attracted so much to the master.

In the left eye of the Mona Lisa of Madrid there is a small m, above a few lines. A good friend, historian, insisted that the fact that the m of the eye is underlined not once, but twice, indicates that this detail has a special importance. I wonder if this refers to Mary Magdalene, or Montserrat. 

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An m (underlined) in Leonardo's left eye.

Not only in this painting, but also in the Virgin of the Rocks, or in The Last Supper, Leonardo left cryptograms alluding to his Gnostic and Cathar beliefs. See in this regard the articles Un detalle escondido en La Virgen de las Rocas and La Santa Cena de Solsona. ¿Modelo para la Última Cena de Leonardo?

At the end of the 18th century, someone (I suspect that it was Francisco de Zamora, for the reasons I explained in the article Los manuscritos de Montserrat, no tan perdidos) ordered the background of the painting to be hidden, painting it black. It was uncovered in 2012, with the result now in sight. Be that as it may, a detail remains that shows that at a certain moment this painting was considered, and also Leonardo, as heretical. A 666 written in the lower left margin.

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The 666 (number of the "beast") in the lower left margin of the Mona Lisa of El Prado.

In the articles Leonardo, hereje, and La presencia de Leonardo en Cataluña, silenciada I express my conviction that Leonardo was not only considered a heretic in Spain (as shown by the number 666 in this painting, and the attempt to cover his symbolism with a black cape) , but also was tried to erase his mere presence in this country, which is why my research on this issue, as well as difficult, is unprecedented. 

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La Gioconda de Madrid with black background.

An intriguing possibility: What if the Gioconda of Madrid was the Gioconda of which Vasari spoke?

The dissimilarity between Vasari's description of his Lives of the Gioconda and the portrait of the Gioconda in Madrid has always intrigued specialists:

He made for Francesco del Giocondo the portrait of Monna Lisa, his wife, and after devoting his efforts for four years, left it unfinished ... In that head, anyone could easily see to what extent art can imitate nature, because in it were represented all the details that can be painted with subtlety, since their eyes had the luster and humidity that we always see in reality, and around them there were those livid and pink hair that can not be reproduced without great subtlety; the eyebrows, for being painted the way of being born the hairs in the flesh, abundant in some parts and thin in others, in different directions, according to the pores of the flesh; the nose, with all the pinkish and tender openings, seemed really; the mouth with its slit and its edges joined by the red of the lips to the flesh of the face, did not seem painted, but really of flesh; who looked intensely at the fontanelle of the throat [...]

However, there is something that does not fit. Because Vasari, in his Lives, presents us with a Gioconda with eyebrows, with a rosy and tender complexion, with a fontanelle in his throat ... In short, he was not describing the painting that we now know as La Gioconda, located in Paris, and yes, on the other hand, it has common elements with La Gioconda of Madrid. Paolo Lomazzo, in his Trattato dell'Arte della Pittura, Scultura ed Architettura, affirms the separately existence of a portrait of the Mona Lisa and other of the Gioconda.

There is no doubt that the Mona Lisa of Madrid and Paris were made simultaneously. The tests are decisive: the painting is made on a walnut table, usual support in the works of Leonardo's workshop, and has the same dimensions as the original. From the preparatory drawing, and almost until its completion, it follows the same steps (trial and error, with corrections) of the creative process of La Gioconda of París. According to the technical study made public by the Prado Museum, "the comparative analysis of infrared reflectographies has revealed identical details underlying the painting, which evidences a process of parallel elaboration". Everything indicates that the same cardboard was used for the Madrid and Paris versions.

A visual analysis allows us to observe that the execution of La Gioconda of the Prado is not as precise, or perfect, as that of the Louvre. You can not see the characteristic sfumato of La Gioconda in Paris. On the other hand, at least in the background, the stroke of the brushstrokes allows us to guess that the painter used the right hand, not the left (Leonardo was left-handed, which is evident in his drawings). In short, everything points to the fact that the author of La Gioconda de Madrid painted it in parallel (simultaneously) to his teacher, with perhaps some retouching of the latter. The landscape - very similar - varies a little, the stroke is not "so magistral, but interesting" (according to some experts gathered at the National Gallery in London), and we observed some elements (the two columns, the red color of the sleeves, the eyebrows of the Mona Lisa) imperceptible -or absent- in the original.

Javier Sierra, in his article "What if the Madrid is the real Mona Lisa?", Published on Sunday, February 5, 2012 in El Mundo, wonders if this could be the picture that Vasari said he saw, with beautiful eyebrows , a pinkish complexion and fontanelle in the throat. And it also alludes to the difference in age between La Gioconda de París (more mature) and Madrid (much younger). The second could be effectively the woman (of 16 or 25 years, in this the biographers do not agree) that would marry in third nuptials with the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

Remember that Lomazzo (see above) had talked about two different paintings: La Gioconda (from Paris?) And the Mona Lisa (from Madrid?). If this were true, Leonardo fulfilled the order and delivered the portrait to the husband of La Gioconda (if it was indeed La Gioconda of Madrid, or some other copy), and reserved for himself the painting of the Louvre, to experience his new technique (known as sfumato) and to hide some of the arcana that it was intended to preserve for future generations. This Gioconda has a wider forehead, shows a darker color, and lacks eyebrows; what, according to experts, is the main difference between the Paris and Madrid versions.