Geologist Has a Theory on Where Mona Lisa Is Set

Ann Pizzorusso used da Vinci's diaries to pinpoint a location on Lake Como
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2024 3:30 PM CDT
Where's Mona Lisa Sitting? A Geologist Has a Theory
A man taking a photograph of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting, kept behind a protective glass, in Paris' Louvre.   (AP Photo/Amel Pain, File)

For Ann Pizzorusso, the most fascinating mystery of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa sits just over her shoulders. A geologist and Italian Renaissance scholar, Pizzorusso spent years puzzling out the painting's setting, and she used his diaries to track down where he traveled during that period. The CBC reports that 20 years after she landed on a location, she has presented her theory at a geology conference in the very place she sees in the painting's backdrop, Lecco, Italy. Situated on Lake Como, Lecco's Limestone Alps (behind the city) and a 14th-century bridge fit the puzzle she longed to connect. "By using geology as an analytical tool, it opened up the art world to me because, while I couldn't comment on brushstrokes or figures, I could certainly look at the rocks," she said.

Jacques Franck, an art historian who encouraged Pizzorusso to present her findings, told the Guardian he doesn't "doubt for one second" her theory. Another supporter, Michael Daley of ArtWatch UK, notes that Pizzorusso's background uniquely positions her to track it down. "Because she has bona fide scientific knowledge, when she notices things in Leonardo—the most scientific artist ever—they're momentous." Pizzorusso calls da Vinci, who was also an inventor, architect, and engineer, the "father of geology" for his astounding accuracy. "I have analyzed every painting in which he has had a rock in it, and it's perfect," she said. "It's like looking at a photograph."

Pizzorusso isn't the only one to theorize where the painting was set. Bobbio and Arezzo, both places in Italy with ancient bridges, have been put forth as contenders, though neither has a lake, and Pizzorusso particularly likes the painting's grey-white mountain hue, which matches the Alps' limestone rocks. But not everyone's convinced. Some art historians, like leading da Vinci scholar Martin Kemp, don't believe the background is even set in the real world. While Kemp appreciates the impulse to ground these mysteries, he believes "to target it to get the location of the images is just fanciful," per the CBC. (A new Mona Lisa secret has been revealed via X-ray.)

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