Mona Lisa’s Famous Smile May Be Due to a Medical Condition

Her expression could point to post-pregnancy hypothyroidism, a doctor hypothesizes.

Mona Lisa By Leonardo Da Vinci. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Mona Lisa By Leonardo Da Vinci. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UIG via Getty Images

Mandeep R. Mehra, medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, took a long look at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “Mona Lisa,” while standing in line last summer at the Louvre. That was when he decided that the Italian noblewoman Lisa Gherardini, who the work is thought to be of, likely suffered from hypothyroidism.

“I had the chance to just stand there for an hour and a half staring at nothing but this painting,” Mehra tells Yasmin Tayag at Inverse, according to Smithsonian Magazine. “I’m not an artist. I don’t know how to appreciate art. But I do sure know how to make a clinical diagnosis.”

Mehra noticed that there is a lump between the woman’s nose and inner eye, likely a cholesterol deposit. She also has fleshy bulges on the right side of her neck, which could be the beginning of a goiter, or enlarged thyroid, and you can see a lump between her index and forefinger that could be a lipoma. Mehra and Hilary Campbell, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, argue in a new paper that all these symptoms point to clinical hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough critical hormones. This diagnosis would also explain the paintings half-hearted smile.

“The more characteristic reason for why that smile is not a full-blown smile or is partially asymmetric is probably hypothyroidism,” Mehra said, according to Smithsonian,“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.”

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