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Ron Piccirillo cracked the mystery of Mona Lisa after he discovered animals hidden in the painting

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Artist Ron Piccirillo claims to have cracked a 500-year-old mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa – by spotting a series of zoo animals hidden in the painting.

Ron Piccirillo, an amateur oil painter and graphic designer based in New York, believes it is possible to see the heads of a lion, an ape and a buffalo floating in the air around the subject’s head along with a crocodile or snake coming out of the left hand side of her body.

He says he followed a series of instructions set out by the artist Leonardo da Vinci to decipher the image and claims his discovery cracks open the meaning of the work, painted in 1519.

The secret is that the Mona Lisa is actually a representation of envy.

The theory is likely to lead to controversy among art critics, many of whom having theories of their own about the painting and the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile.

Ron Piccirillo claims to have found similar hidden images in works by other Renaissance painters such as Titian and Rafael.

It was when he turned the painting on its side that he first noticed the lion’s head.

Artist Ron Piccirillo claims to have cracked a 500 year old mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa by spotting a series of zoo animals hidden in the painting photo

Artist Ron Piccirillo claims to have cracked a 500-year-old mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa - by spotting a series of zoo animals hidden in the painting

Ron Piccirillo said: “Then I noticed the buffalo and I thought: <<Oh my God>>. Then I realized I was really onto something. I just could not believe what I was looking at. I realized, <<this is what I’ve been looking for>>.”

The artist also said he had found either a crocodile or snake by following the instructions of Leonardo da Vinci’s journals.

Looking at the painting from a 45 degree angle from the left, the path that runs in the scenery behind the Mona Lisa appears almost serpentine.

This was supposedly where the angle of the light was best and led to the least amount of reflection. From a diagram in Leonardo da Vinci’s journals which explained this, Ron Piccirillo called it the “D-point”.

The instructions also called for the viewer to put their eyes on the same level as the horizon in the painting.

From this he was able to make sense of the line in the passage about how to paint envy which reads: “Make her heart gnawed by a swelling serpent”, as there is such a creature emerging from her right breast.

Ron Piccirillo then spent two months pouring over the Leonardo da Vinci’s journals before coming up on a passage about envy.

“It’s amazing because everyone thought that da Vinci never wrote about the Mona Lisa, but now it appears that he did.”

The passage in question talks about how the artist trying to paint envy must “give her a leopard’s skin, because this creature kills the lion out of envy and by deceit” – a reference to the hidden lion’s head.

Once Ron Piccirillo cracked that everything else fell into place.

He said: “This is really about viewing perspective. Imagine standing in front of an oval line drawing. It is obviously an oval, but if you view it from the left or right, at a large enough angle, the oval turns into a circle.

“This is the key to understanding how Leonardo and many other Renaissance artists hid subjects in their artwork. If you know to look for them, they are there.

“I don’t know why this has been missed for so long and I can’t tell you what it means – that’s one for the art historians.

“Da Vinci could have been using horses heads as some kind of religious code, but as to why they are hidden I have no idea.

“It’s not every day you spot something that has gone unnoticed for 500 years.”

Ron Piccirillo added: “It is not just in da Vinci’s works.

“I have seen these hidden images in works by Titian and Rafael and also all over the Sistine Chapel.”

Last year Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage claimed revealed that magnification of high-resolution images of the Mona Lisa’s eyes has revealed letters and numbers.

Infra-red images have also revealed Leonardo da Vinci’s preparatory drawings that lie behind layers of varnish and paint.

Leonardo da Vinci began work on the painting in 1503, and it now hangs in the Louvre in Paris in a concrete, climate-controlled bunker where she can only be viewed through two sheets of bulletproof glass set 25 cm apart.

The work, also known as “La Gioconda”, is believed to have portrayed the wife of Francesco del Giocondo.

The title is a play on her husband’s name, and also means “the jolly lady” in Italian.

The fight to uncover Leonardo da Vinci’s hidden battle scene

A row between art historians over the uncovering of Leonardo da Vinci’s “hidden” but finest work is reaching a climax.

The Battle of Anghiari is believed to have been painted in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence underneath a 16th century fresco and has been the subject of an argument for the last 35 years.

The Battle of Anghiari is believed to have been painted in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence underneath a 16th century fresco and has been the subject of an argument for the last 35 years photo

The Battle of Anghiari is believed to have been painted in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence underneath a 16th century fresco and has been the subject of an argument for the last 35 years

To see if the painting really is there could see the destruction of the fresco and 150 art experts from around the world have been protested against the speculative work.

Last week a 2 cm cavity was drilled into the wall, according to the Guardian, and there were traces of an organic pigment found by a tiny camera inserted into the wall.

The work is being done by Maurizio Seracini who features in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

The fresco that is currently in place is the Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana by Giorgio Vasari and was painted in 1543, nearly 60 years after Leonardo da Vinci started his work.

The painting technique, used experimenting with an oil paint technique, was not successful and he abandoned the work, unfinished. Copies, however, have been made by other artists such as Ruben’s drawing which hangs in the Louvre.