Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Oil on panel - 76.8 x 53 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : C2RMF
Gianfranco Salvatori is well aware that he is about to set loose a veritable bomb which will go far beyond the confines of the museum world. We can now exclusively report that the Roman art historian, after a long investigation, is asserting that he can prove without the shadow of a doubt that the true artist behind the Mona Lisa is not Leonardo da Vinci, but Michelangelo, both artists having agreed to organize the world’s greatest art fraud. Due out next month, Salvatori will publish the results of his research in a book, Ed. Morelli, which will turn the history of art upside down and which he has soberly entitled Leonardo, no : Michelangelo, si !.
The story is in fact a very simple one and it seems surprising that no one has found out the truth earlier. All the evidence was at hand, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in a handwritten confession by Leonardo, hidden amid the volumes on code shelf NF23 and discovered by Salvatori.
While in Florence Leonardo and Michelangelo met at a local bar, and the two started playing cards (they had both been drinking heavily). The loser was to carry out a wager to be decided by the winner. Leonardo won out and had a brilliant idea which could have only occurred to a genius of his caliber : he would ask Michelangelo to paint a picture that he would pass off as one of his own. However, knowing that his friend did not have the same technique, he trained him for a month in sfumato, then asked him to paint his assistant, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known as Salai. To make things a little more complicated, he made Michelangelo disguise him as a woman. The feminine figure we know as the Mona Lisa is therefore really a transvestite, in fact a man, as some attentive observers had already noticed. Salvatori now provides the proof, while also revealing the name of the true painter.
After the painting was finished, the two friends went their separate ways. One left for Rome to sculpt Pope Julius II’s tomb, the other set off for Milan. Finally, Leonardo came to France to the court of King Francis I, taking the picture with him, chuckling at the trick he was about to play on the king by giving him this panel which he appeared to have painted.
While in France, he wrote down this whole story in a small book which he intended to make public in order to reveal the fraud and gain due admiration for his friend’s talent in achieving such a fine pastiche. But when the king told him that the Mona Lisa was the most beautiful painting he had ever produced, Leonardo was so jealous of his old friend that he no longer dared tell François I the truth. At the end of his life, finding himself on his deathbed, in the king’s arms, he decided to confess. However, he had barely started his story, when he expired his last breath, taking the secret with him to the tomb. In the meanwhile, back in Rome Michelangelo had forgotten all about the practical joke and never imagined that this painting, done for fun, would one day become so famous. He also died without telling anyone about it, or if he did, no one believed him.
Only two years ago, Salvatori’s intuition, in a flash of genius, made him realize what had really happened. He in fact noticed, thanks to a macrophotograph of the Mona Lisa, that the model’s eyelashes, partly hidden by the varnishes, concealed the following letters : MBDRMF, which he translated by Michelangelo Buonarroti Di Roma Me Fecit "Michelangelo, in Rome, made me". But the incredulity surrounding the theories concerning the Mona Lisa - there are of course so many ludicrous suggestions brought forth every year - drew only rounds of laughter from the different specialists he consulted.
This is why the Italian professor undertook a long investigation which started at the Vatican (where he did not uncover anything by the way) and going on to the smallest French libraries, where his research was just as unproductive. But as luck would have it, while digging around code NF23 at the Bnf, which had remained unexplored till then, he fell upon Leonardo’s famous memoirs where the artist explained everything. He laughs best who laughs last ; all those experts who refused to believe Salvatori will now have to eat their hats. Salvatori was right all along.
Will the Mona Lisa remain the same famous icon now that it has lost its prestigious attribution ? For the Louvre, of course nothing will change : Michelangelo is just as legendary as Leonardo. We would even go so far as to say that it works in the Louvre’s favor : although it owns Michelangelo’s two Slaves there was no chance it would ever posses one of his paintings. Incredibly, this is now the case ! According to our sources, Gianfranco Salvatori, who has sold the film rights to Steven Spielberg before the book is even published, has now set himself a new challenge : proving that La Liberté sur les barricades was actually painted by Ingres. We wish him good luck.
Gianfranco Salvatori, Leonardo no : Michelangelo, si !, Morelli Editions, 253 p., 35€. ISBN : 32043549259. To appear on 13 April 2012. An Englishc edition will appear in September.