It’s the latest theory in a never-ending line of theories about what’s behind the enigmatic half-smile of the Mona Lisa. For centuries, art critics, scholars and museum-goers have debated what the T is about Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century portrait of Francesco del Giocondo, also known as “the Mona Lisa.” Seriously, what is up with that expression? Are her teeth rotting out? Is it indigestion? Is she pregnant? Actually a very passable drag queen? All of these are valid hypotheses (and there are many others), but now art critic Jonathan Jones has published an article in The Guardian, postulating that Mona’s not smiling because she has an STD ― syphilis, to be exact. “And despite the fact that she’s posing for what will later become the most renowned portrait of all time, she can’t stop thinking about disease, her impending death, and how scary sex is.”
Jones’ primary supporting evidence lies in the ledger of a Florentine convent, which chronicled del Giocondo’s purchase of snail water from its apothecary. Yes, snail water. It’s weird. It’s also, as Jones reminds his readers, a pre-modern medicinal antidote for sexually transmitted diseases.
At the time the “Mona Lisa” was painted, syphilis was spreading rapidly throughout Europe; it was thought to have spread to America by way of Columbus’ sailors. So, of all the potential venereal diseases del Giocondo could contract, Jones surmises that syphilis was the most likely contagion. Add it to the growing list of “Mona Lisa” theories, also known as the Why Won’t This Woman Just Smile, Already?! Chronicles.
Jones acknowledges his art history diagnosis is something of a stretch. But the ailment, he believes, would explain that enigmatic variable in Mona Lisa’s coy expression that has beguiled countless individuals for hundreds of years.
“Pools of dark shadow spread across del Giocondo’s face,” Jones explains, “lending definition to her beauty, but also hinting at a melancholy behind her half-smile. The shadows around her eyes could easily seem unhealthy. The strange greenish light that bathes her could be a miasma of sickness.”
What do YOU think is the reason for that weird half-smile?