The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q., is a pun; the letters pronounced in French sound like “Elle a chaud au cul”, “She is hot in the arse”; “avoir chaud au cul” is a vulgar expression implying that a woman has sexual restlessness. In a late interview (Schwarz 203), Duchamp gives a loose translation of L.H.O.O.Q. as “there is fire down below”.
Following his examinations, [art historian] Silvano Vinceti believes the artwork is an amalgamation of two models: a rich Florentine merchant’s wife, Lisa Gherardini, and da Vinci’s apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known to the artist as Salai, or Little Devil.
“The Mona Lisa is androgynous – half man and half woman,” he told The Telegraph, explaining that he studied other paintings based on Salai and found striking similarities. “You see it particularly in Mona Lisa’s nose, her forehead and her smile. We’ve come up with an answer to a question that has divided scholars for years. Who was the Mona Lisa based on?”
Apparently, THIS DUDE.
It is thought that Salai began working for da Vinci when he was around 10-years-old, after joining the artist’s household in 1490. He stayed for the next two decades. Gherardini married Francesco del Giocondo, whose family owned an extravagant villa during the period in which da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa (between 1503 and 1506). Vinceti has been excavating a covent in Florence for four years with the aim of unearthing Gherardini’s remains.
As ever with artistic theories, Vinceti’s conclusions have not gone unchallenged. Martin Kemp, a leading da Vinci expert and professor emeritus of history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, has dismissed the claims as “a mishmash of known things, semi-known things and complete fantasy”.
“The infra-red images do nothing to support the idea that Leonardo somehow painted a blend of Lisa Gherardini and Salai,” he said, adding that too little is known about Salai’s appearance.
“Giorgio Vasari (a contemporary painter and a chronicler of Renaissance artists) described him as a pretty boy with curly hair, but that was a standard type of the era,” he continued. “It featured in Leonardo’s work long before Salai came on the scene.”
A “standard type” that has ruled the centuries.