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Updated: January 11, 2011 02:23 IST

Mona Lisa backdrop “unveiled”

Tom Kington
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Painting's subject was Bianca Giovanna Sforza

A small town in northern Italy is basking in new-found celebrity after an Italian art historian claimed it featured in the background of the world's most famous painting — Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

A bridge and a road glimpsed over the shoulder of the Mona Lisa, often believed to be imaginary, belong to Bobbio in northern Italy, according to Carla Glori, who says that a numerical code recently discovered on the canvas backs her conclusions.

“The twisting road from the painting can be found there, as is the arched bridge that Da Vinci would have seen from the windows of the town's castle,” said Ms. Glori, who is due to publish her findings about the Renaissance painting this year.

Ms. Glori reached her conclusion while investigating the possibility that Bianca Giovanna Sforza, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza, the 15th century duke of Milan, sat for Da Vinci, and not Lisa del Giocondo in Florence, as is widely believed. “Ludovico controlled Bobbio and Da Vinci likely visited the famous library there like many other artists and scientists based at Ludovico's court,” she said.

A small medieval town whose abbey was a model for Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose, Bobbio and its Roman bridge sit astride the Trebbia valley, which was once described by Ernest Hemingway as the most beautiful in the world.

Martin Kemp, a renowned Da Vinci scholar, said he was not convinced. “The portrait is almost certainly of Lisa del Giocondo, however unromantic and un-mysterious that idea might be,” he said, adding that he also had his doubts on Bobbio. “Leonardo is remaking an archetypal landscape on the basis of his knowledge of the ‘body of the earth'”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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