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Video: High-res images reveal da Vinci codes?

  1. Transcript of: High-res images reveal da Vinci codes?

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: The Mona Lisa has given us a new Da Vinci code to ponder. Art historians studied magnified, high-resolution images of the famed painting, and they found the tiny letters L and V in Mona Lisa 's right eye -- believed to be the artist's initials -- and elsewhere, the letters C, B and the number 72. A mystery just as intriguing as the lady's famous smile.

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updated 12/14/2010 10:51:23 AM ET 2010-12-14T15:51:23

Hidden behind the Mona Lisa's eyes is a mysterious code made of letters and numbers, according to a controversial claim by members of Italy's national committee for cultural heritage.

Magnifying high-resolution images of the world’s most famous painting would reveal hidden letters and numbers added by Leonardo da Vinci, said Silvano Vinceti, president of the committee.

“To the naked eye, the symbols are hard to distinguish, but with a magnifying glass you can see the letters LV behind the right pupil (the left when watching the painting). They could stand for his name Leonardo Da Vinci,” Vinceti told the Italian news agency ANSA.

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Even harder to decode would be the symbols in the left pupil (the right when watching the painting).

According to Vinceti, they appear to be the letters CE or simply the letter B. Other symbols would be hidden in the landscape, more precisely in the arch of the bridge.

“They seem to be the number 72, or it could be an L and the number 2,” Vinceti said.

While it is quickly spreading over the Internet to the delight of Dan Brown’s fans, the claim has not gained much support among Leonardo scholars.

“I can’t offer any comment on the scientific value of this 'finding' since the scientific basis to support it are missing,” Carlo Pedretti, the world's leading scholar in Leonardo studies, told Discovery News.

“Under the microscope, the eyes of the original Mona Lisa — not those appearing in magnifying high-resolution images — do not present any cryptic sign, such as numbers or letters, but only the craquelure (or cracking) also visible to the naked eye,” said Pedretti, who heads the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where Leonardo was born in 1452, agrees.

“Scientific tests such as non-invasive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy have revealed many interesting features, but certainly no letters and numbers,” Vezzosi told Discovery News.

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“People are so fascinated by this painting that they can see everything in it,” said Vezzosi, the curator of a traveling exhibition called “Mona Lisa Is Naked,” which explores the impact of the enigmatic lady on art while gathering portraits of a half-naked women with clear links to the famous (and clothed) Mona Lisa.

Completed toward the end of the life of Leonardo, who lived from 1452 to 1519, the Mona Lisa has raised innumerable speculations.

Some, including Vinceti, claimed that the woman with the enigmatic smile was a self-portrait, Leonardo da Vinci in drag.

Others suggested that the sitter was either Caterina Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan; Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan; or Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla, a mistress of Giuliano de Medici.

In 2005, Veit Probst, director of the Heidelberg University Library, found evidence in notes written in October 1503 in the margin of a book that Leonardo’s model was Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins who married the merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

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Attempts to solve the enigma around her smile, described by the 16th-century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari as "more divine than human," have included theories that the noblewoman was happily pregnant, suffering from asthma, had facial paralysis or that the smile was the result of a compulsive gnashing of teeth.

Another disease attributed to Mona Lisa is an inherited cholesterol disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia.

The disorder is highlighted by a wartlike lesion of the skin near the left eye (the right when watching the painting) which is basically a cholesterol skin deposit called xanthelasma.

Interestingly, none of the known reproductions of the Mona Lisa feature such a skin lesion.

"We might come to the conclusion that none of the copies which have come down to us were based upon a direct confrontation with the Louvre picture, and hence were more than likely copies of copies," the late art historian James Beck wrote in a 2007 paper on the subject.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Explainer: Seven deep mysteries of history

  • Image: Amelia Earhart
    FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    What happened to Amelia Earhart?

    Amelia Earhart raised the spirits of Depression-era America as she soared into the aviation record books with feats of altitude, distance and endurance. The mood took a gloomy turn, however, when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during a much-heralded attempt to fly around the world. Their fate remains one of aviation's greatest unsolved mysteries.

    Theories abound: They ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. They were captured by the Japanese and executed. They survived, and Earhart lived out her life as a housewife in New Jersey.

    A prominent theory with tantalizing clues holds that they survived the crash landing and but perished as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the republic of Kiribati. An expedition to the island in 2010 recovered pieces of a pocket knife and a glass jar that may have belonged to the castaways. If DNA analyses on these and other items match Earhart's, the mystery may finally be resolved.

    Click ahead for six more stories of historical mysteries.

  • Where are Cleopatra and Mark Antony buried?

    Image: Kathleen Martinez, director of a Dominican-Egyptian archeological mission
    Orlando Barria  /  EPA

    Excavations underway at a temple near Alexandria, Egypt, may reveal the final resting place of the doomed lovers Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The Egyptian queen and Roman general committed suicide in 30 B.C. following their defeat in the battle of Actium for control of the Roman Empire. But where the lovers were buried is unknown.

    Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist, believes the lovers were put to rest in the temple of Taposiris Magna and launched a dig with a Dominican-led team to locate the tomb. "It my opinion, if this tomb is found, it will be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century because of the love between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and because of the sad story of their death," he told reporters during a tour of the temple.

    Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez is shown here with an alabaster bust of Cleopatra that was found at the excavation site near Alexandria.

  • Where is Genghis Khan buried?

    Image: The foundation of a Genghis Khan's mausoleum.
    Japan-Mongol Joint Research Team via AP

    Genghis Khan united warring tribes in 1206 and became the leader of the Mongols, creating an empire that eventually stretched from China to Hungary. The famed warrior's tomb, however, has remained a mystery ever since his death in 1227.

    According to legend, his burial party killed anyone who saw the procession. The slaves and soldiers who attended the funeral were also killed. Horses then trampled evidence of the burial, and a river was diverted to flow over the grave, which is thought to lie somewhere near Genghis Khan's birthplace in Khentii Aimag.

    Expeditions to locate the tomb have been aborted due to concerns that the excavations would disturb the site and destroy the soul that serves as its protector. In 2004, archaeologists uncovered Genghis Khan's palace, shown here, and they suspect the tomb lies nearby.

  • Did the Donner family resort to cannibalism?

    Image: James F. Reed and Margret W. Keyes Reed
    AP

    The legend is a harrowing tale of survival: A group of pioneers headed for California in 1846 got stuck on a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada and resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter. But the claims that they feasted on human flesh may have been exaggerated, based on an analysis of bones found in a hearth along Alder Creek, where at least some of the Donner Party passed the time.

    The analysis shored up accounts that the family dog, Uno, was eaten, as well as a steady supply of cattle, deer and horse. No human bones were found at the site. While cannibalism may have occurred, if it did, the bones were treated in a different way. Perhaps the bones were buried. Or perhaps they were placed on the hearth last and have since eroded, according to project scientist Gwen Robbins, a professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University.

    Donner Party survivors James Reed and his wife Margaret Reed are shown in this photo from the 1850s.

  • Where is Billy the Kid buried?

    Image: William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, circa 1880.
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    Legend holds that outlaw Billy the Kid was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881 and buried in Fort Sumner, N.M. A headstone marks his grave, but a controversy has roiled since the 1930s when an Arizona man named John Miller claimed that he was the legendary outlaw. Garrett, he said, shot the wrong man and lied about it. Matters became even more confused a few decades later when a Texan named "Brushy" Bill Roberts came forth and said he was the real Billy the Kid.

    An investigation aims to resolve the case by exhuming the body of Billy the Kid's mother and comparing her mitochondrial DNA to genetic material from the three men. But the investigation is controversial on several fronts. For one, the graves have been moved over the decades and nobody is certain the bodies and headstones match up. In addition, if the real Billy the Kid turns out to be buried in Texas or Arizona, it would kill off a legend that helps draw tourists to the New Mexico gravesite.

  • Christopher Columbus' remains in Spain?

    Image: Alleged tomb of Christopher Columbus, Cathedral of Seville
    Cristina Quicler  /  AP file

    In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue; after he died in 1509, his remains remained on the move. He was originally buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid, but his remains were shipped to the Caribbean island of Hispanola (modern-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1537, in accordance with his will. When the Spanish lost the territory to France in 1795, they shipped Columbus's remains to Cuba, where they stayed until the Spanish-American War prompted their return to Seville in 1898. The tomb is shown here.

    The Dominican Republic, however, says Columbus' remains never left Hispanola. In 1877, a box was uncovered in a Santo Domingo cathedral with an inscription identifying the remains as belonging to the "illustrious and distinguished male Cristobal Colon (Spanish for Christopher Columbus)."

    DNA analysis of bone fragments from the Seville remains and those of Columbus' brother Diego, also buried in the city, are a perfect match. When researchers announced those findings in 2006, they declared that the century-old dispute was resolved. But DNA from the Dominican remains has yet to be studied, leaving the case not quite fully shut.

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    Image: Nicholas II, Prince Alexei
    AP file

    Bolsheviks gunned down Russian Czar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and their five children in 1918, but for 90 years the whereabouts of two of the children, Prince Alexei (heir to the Russian throne) and a daughter (Maria or Anastasia), remained unknown until 2008. That's when their bones were recovered from a grave near the rest of the Romanov family near Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, about 900 miles east of Moscow.

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    Czar Nicholas II, left, and the Crown Prince Alexei, are shown cutting wood in this photo, taken at a Siberian prison months before their murder in 1918.

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