Leonardo da Vinci, “La Gioconda / Mona Lisa” (c. 1503 to 1517), oil on poplar panel, 21 inches x 30 inches (image courtesy Dianelos via Wikimedia Commons/edit by Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

It’s a small but mighty detail that might answer some longstanding questions about Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” (c. 1503–1517): Just above Lisa del Giocondo’s left shoulder is a small bridge of four arches that’s rather easy for the untrained eye to miss, but has stood as the subject of debate for centuries. An Italian art historian and researcher named Silvano Vinceti, working in partnership with the Le Rocca Cultural Association, now believes he has identified the bridge in question based on onsite analysis coupled with records indicating Leonardo’s presence in the area during the time he started the painting.

The Romito di Laterina bridge in Laterina, Italy, via Google Reviews (photo by Rodolfo Ademollo, screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

In a press conference this week, Vinceti said he discovered that the bridge in question is the Ponte Romito in Laterina, a small village in the province of Arezzo, Italy. Earlier theories identified the painting’s bridge as the 11-arched Ponte Gobbo in the northern village of Bobbio, or the seven-arched Ponte Buriano, which is quite close to Ponte Romito. However, Vincenti disputes the other theories by referencing that Leonardo’s rendering of the bridge only has four arches in view. The historian has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

Today, there is only one remaining arch standing at what was once the Romito di Laterina bridge. Using drone footage and photography, Vinceti measured the dimensions of the arch and determined that exactly four arches would fit between the two riverbanks at this particular stretch of the Arno River. Vinceti also analyzed documents from the Medici family in a Florence state archive indicating that the bridge, used as a shortcut between the cities of Arezzo, Fiesole, and Florence, was “very busy” and “functioning” between 1501 and 1503. Additional documents report that Leonardo resided in the city of Fiesole on occasion with an uncle who was a priest.

Leonardo was reportedly in and around the Val d’Arno area (the Arno River valley) in the early 1500s while serving cardinal and mercenary leader Cesare Borgia, who commissioned him to work as a military architect and engineer. Leonardo’s time under Borgia was brief, expiring in 1503 and prompting him to find work under the Florentine statesman Piero Soderini.

Evidence aside, not everyone is convinced that da Vinci’s bridge is a cameo of any of the aforementioned historical landmarks. Francesca Fiorani, an author and art history professor at University of Virginia whose research focuses on da Vinci’s translations of the natural world into his work, argues that Vinceti did not take into account “how Leonardo observed nature and painted it.”

“Leonardo was an acute observer of nature, but he did not ‘copy’ nature in his works,” Fiorani told Hyperallergic. “In fact, no matter how hard scholars have tried to pinpoint the precise real place Leonardo painted in his works, to identify a specific mountain chain with the mountains in the “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” (c. 1501 to 1519) or a specific rock formation with the rocks in the “Virgin of the Rocks” (c. 1483 to 1486; 1495 to 1508), or a distinctive turn of the Arno river in the countryside, or an individual bridge, such proposals were never convincing.”

“The bridge in the landscape behind the Mona Lisa is no exception,” Fiorani stated. “It is inspired by the many rivers that crossed the Arno in the Tuscan countryside, but it does not represent any of them specifically.”

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

One reply on “Historian May Have Identified the Bridge in the “Mona Lisa””

  1. I am in complete agreement with Professor Fiorani. Leonardo was in the Val d’Arno, of course, but while he was there learning about the geology in the area in order to devise a plan to alter the course of the Arno, he became fascinated by its features in general. This is what is reflected in the Mona Lisa. As she says, he was an artist, not a slave to imitating nature exactly! That Signor Vinceti believes an exact identification of any geographical feature in the landscape can or should be made is simply wrong from the outset.

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