Our new mini-series looks at potential medical issues in famous works of art. Dr Keith Hopcroft starts with the most famous artwork of all
No prizes for guessing the picture or the artist. You’ve probably stared at this innumerable times. But have you noticed a clinical angle before? If you look very carefully, you might spot a potential explanation for why it’s thought that the model for the picture died at the age 37 (the average life expectancy for women at that time being around 50).
Hint Try looking at the left medial canthus area. Having done that, think where else you might look.
Answer It has been suggested in Medical Archaeology that the eyelid lesion is a xanthelasma – and that the lump you might also have spotted at the base of her right index finger could be a lipoma (though, even more neatly, it could be viewed as a xanthoma). Which might suggest that Mona Lisa had hypercholesterolaemia, which in turn would suggest her early demise. Though it should be pointed out that there is debate about her actual age of death, with other authorities suggesting she lived to the age of 63, high cholesterol or not.
Dr Keith Hopcroft is Pulse’s medical adviser and a GP in Basildon, Essex