LEONARDO da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was eating a sausage, a new digital scan of the famous painting has revealed.
The 240-megapixel image strips away later layers of paint to show the artist originally depicted his model enjoying a mixed grill including a Lincolnshire, a pork with leek, and a chipolata, with some fried mushrooms and large grilled tomato on the side.
Da Vinci changed his mind twice about the position of the sausages on the plate and at one point even replaced the Lincolnshire with a Cumberland before returning to his original sausage combination.
Bill McKay, head of art history at the University of Dundee, said the latest scan gave a fascinating insight into Da Vinci’s painting methods and solved one of the great mysteries of the art world.
He said: “Preliminary sketches by the artist show the Mona Lisa variously with a pork chop, an escalope, and even a piece of rolled loin before Leonardo finally settled on the processed pork products which are normally associated with his more mature work.
“But in the final version there was apparently no meat at all, not even a bit of beef mince. Now we see the sausages were there all along, and that the Mona Lisa’s famous look is not some weird, enigmatic smile but the contented chew of a young lady enjoying some premium pork.”
The same digital technique has also been used to reveal new insights into many other famous artistic images.
For example, the soldiers of the 93rd Highland Regiment depicted in the Thin Red Line were originally painted with underpants beneath their kilts, but these were later removed and a finely detailed scrotum added to each man, even though they can only be seen if someone lies on the gallery floor and looks up.