Silvano Vinceti, the head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, claims the image of Mona Lisa is an "androgynous" combination of a wealthy Tuscan merchant's wife, Lisa Gherardini, and da Vinci's apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti—nicknamed Salai.
According to The Telegraph, Vinceti based his claims on an infra-red examination of the painting. Allegedly, Mona Lisa's smile, forehead, and nose bear a striking resemblance to other da Vinci paintings where the painter used his apprentice, Salai, as a model.
Salai, or "little devil" in English, supposedly came to study with da Vinci at age 10 and apprenticed for the painter for nearly 20 years. It has never been confirmed, but it's believed that da Vinci and Salai were lovers. However, Vinceti's claims have been met with doubt by a leading da Vinci expert. Martin Kemp, a professor emeritus of art history at Trinity College, Oxford, told The Telegraph, "This is a mish-mash of known things, semi-known things and complete fantasy. The infra-red images do nothing to support the idea that Leonardo somehow painted a blend of Lisa Gherardini and Salai."
Although far from proven, the theory that Mona Lisa is based on da Vinci's possible gay lover/apprentice lives on.