12/06/2011 10:45 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2011

Artist Spots Hidden Images Of Animals In Mona Lisa (VIDEO)

The Mona Lisa has puzzled viewers for over 500 years with her enigmatic smile... but has her coy grin only been a distraction for Da Vinci's real mystery? Is the Mona Lisa surrounded by animals? Rochester artist Ron Piccirillo thinks he has brought the 500-year old secret to light.

It all started when Piccirillo was doing research for an art project and decided to get a fresh perspective on the work by, in his words, "employing an old artist's trick" and turning the piece on its side.

Suddenly Piccirillo noticed a lion hovering by Mona Lisa's head; soon an ape, buffalo and crocodile also became visible. Confronted with this scene out of the 'Da Vinci Code' come to life, Piccirillo recalled thinking: "Oh my God."

At this point Piccirillo began pouring over Da Vinci's old journals, looking to find any textual hints corroborating his findings. The artist found text that mirrored his findings in the work, predicting the nascent existence of zoo animals in the work as well as providing a key to their symbolic meaning.

Da Vinci wrote: "Give her a leopard's skin, because this creature kills the lion out of envy and by deceit," alluding to the hidden lion's head and providing a meaning for all of the hidden symbols: the Mona Lisa is a painting about envy.

Many art historians are skeptical of Piccirillo's findings, both because of the intensely cryptic nature of the symbolism and the likelihood that this would only show up now in what is probably the most studied painting of all time. See for yourself, follow Piccirillo's findings on his website.

This discovery has attracted a lof of media attention, but even this may be only the beginning of something far more meaningful. Piccirillo said of his accidental discovery: "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."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article reported that Piccirillo discovered a snake behind the Mona Lisa when it was, in fact, a crocodile.



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