Mona Lisa's Enigmatic Smile Explained by a Common Medical Condition

There's more to the famous portrait than meets the eye.

Mona Lisa’s smile has captivated admirers since she came to life on canvas in the early 1500s. Upon first glance, she seems happy to see you, but linger long enough and her inner sadness blooms. Italians even have a word for it: sfumato, which roughly translates to “evaporate like smoke.” This year, however, a doctor realized that her face is not so enigmatic after all. La Gioconda, he argues, was just sick.

In September, Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra argued in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal that Lisa Gherardini, the woman in the legendary painting, probably suffered from clinical hypothyroidism, a condition with very obvious physical symptoms. Mehra, medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, previously explained to Inverse that the constellation of odd physical features hiding in plain sight in the portrait led him to this realization. They’re all outlined in the video above.

This is #11 on Inverse’s list of the 25 Most WTF stories of 2018.

As he explained what he saw in Da Vinci’s famous painting while he was stuck in line at the Louvre, the mystery of her smile unraveled into a sad tale. First, he noticed the small bump on the inner corner of her left eye. Then there was the thinning, receding hair; the complete lack of eyebrows; the yellowing eyes; and the slight bulges on the right side of her neck and her right hand.

These, Mehra explained, are all symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Note the thinning hair, yellowing eyes, and bumps on her right hand, inner left eye, and the right side of her neck.


“So, I’m basically looking at a receding hairline, loss of eyebrows, a swelling in the neck, coarse, thin hair,” he said at the time. “And I’m looking at a slightly edematous, swollen woman with no hair throughout. That, to me is a classic picture of clinical hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland.”

An underactive thyroid gland, he explained further, is often associated with depression.

“The more characteristic reason for why that smile is not a full-blown smile or is partially asymmetric is probably hypothyroidism,” he said, “because when you have hypothyroidism you’re a little depressed, and your facial muscles are puffy and weak. You can’t even bring yourself to a full smile.”

Da Vinci, who was faithful to depicting life as he saw it, didn’t include those strange details by accident, Mehra said. Perhaps he knew that illness could itself be beautiful: In October, a different set of researchers argued that the painter suffered from an eye condition called strabismus, which gave him a lazy eye but an unparalleled gift for seeing the world in greater depth.

As 2018 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 stories that made us go WTF. Some are gross, some are amazing, and some are just, well, WTF. In our ranking from least to most WTF, this has been #11. Read the original article here.

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