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‘Mona Lisa was a slave from China’: historian

An Italian historian's theory that Mona Lisa might be a Chinese slave and Leonardo da Vinci's mother - making the 15th-century polymath half-Chinese - sent online commentators into a frenzy on Wednesday.

'Mona Lisa was a slave from China': historian
An Italian historian said Mona Lisa might be a Chinese slave and Leonardo da Vinci's mother. Photo: Dcoetzee

Angelo Paratico, a Hong Kong-based historian and novelist from Italy, told the South China Morning Post: "On the back of Mona Lisa, there is a Chinese landscape and even her face looks Chinese."

Chinese web users expressed astonishment and disbelief on Wednesday, posting dozens of parodies of the painting, with faces from Chinese comedians to British actor Rowan Atkinson grafted over her delicate features.

Little is known about Caterina, the mother of the artist, writer, mathematician and inventor, and the identity of the sitter for the portrait hanging in Paris' Louvre museum has long been a matter of debate.

Paratico, who is finishing a book entitled Leonardo da Vinci: a Chinese scholar lost in Renaissance Italy, cited Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud's 1910 assumption that the painting was inspired by the artist's mother.

"One wealthy client of Leonardo's father had a slave called Caterina. After 1452, Leonardo's date of birth, she disappeared from the documents," he told the paper.

The evidence for a Chinese connection appears to be slight, with Paratico saying he was sure "up to a point" that da Vinci's mother was from the Orient.

"To make her an oriental Chinese, we need to use a deductive method," he added.

Many posters on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo were incredulous.

"I'm so sad that you thought I'm a foreigner!" wrote one, with an image of a frowning Mona Lisa holding two rolls of toilet paper and blowing her nose. "I'd rather be from wherever I am loved."

Another user replaced her features with unlikely faces ranging from Chinese male comedian Zhao Benshan to British actor Rowan Atkinson, to a grimacing robot holding a Mona Lisa mask.

The topic had been viewed more than four million times and triggered 160,000 postings by midday Wednesday.

"I now understand why her smile looks so mysterious and concealed – it's typically Chinese," said another poster. 

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LOUVRE

Louvre partners US streetwear guru on €572 Leonardo hoodies

As an artist, architect and engineer, Virgil Abloh is fashion's renaissance man. Now the hyperactive US designer is measuring himself up against the greatest polymath of all with a collection of clothes inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.

Louvre partners US streetwear guru on €572 Leonardo hoodies
The hoodies are printed with a small copy of a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Photo: Off White
The T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies adorned with some of Leonardo's greatest works are a part of an official hook up with the Louvre museum in Paris, which is staging a blockbuster show to mark the 500th anniversary of the Italian master's death.
   
The hoodies selling for up to 572 euros a piece ($640) mix Leonardo male nudes and paintings like “Saint Anne” with the four-arrowed logo of Abloh's ultra-hip Off-White label.
   
The world's most visited museum has been a magnet for black American megastars of late, with music's most famous couple, singers Beyonce and Jay-Z, shooting a video there last year for their album, “Apeshit”.
   
Fans of the streetwear guru Abloh queued through the night last month to snap up a range of homewear he designed for a collaboration with budget furniture chain Ikea.
   
It included a backlit reproduction of Leonardo's “Mona Lisa” (159 euros) from the Louvre and a green synthetic turf rug bearing the legend, “Wet grass”.  Another rug was modelled on an Ikea till receipt.
   
Abloh, 39, who took the reins of Louis Vuitton's menswear line last year, is one of the hottest fashion designers in the world, with some 15 million followers on social media.
 
Beyonce and Jay-Z
 
“I wanted to create a fertile collision between fashion and high art, Abloh said of his Leonardo-inspired streetwear.
   
The Louvre for its part said that it “rejoiced that such a multi-faceted artist as Virgil Abloh” had been inspired by its collections.
   
Like the Beyonce and Jay-Z video, which featured them standing regally in front of the “Mona Lisa” while a squad of scantily-clad dancers gyrated in front of Jacques-Louis David's “The Coronation of Napoleon”, it argues that
the exposure brings its treasures to a whole new public.
   
Rapper will.i.am, one of the founders of the Black Eyed Peas, shot an acclaimed video for his hit “Mona Lisa Smile” there in 2016, where he transposed himself into some of its greatest paintings.
   
He later made a documentary about the museum for Oprah Winfrey's television channel, OWN.
 
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Abloh, a former creative director for rapper Kanye West also designs for Nike, and a retrospective of his work broke records at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art before it transferred last month to Atlanta's High Museum of Art.
   
But the designer was forced to curb his manic globe-trotting schedule in September because of “health considerations”, which meant him missing his own Off-White women's show in the French capital.
   
He told Vogue at the time that his doctor had warned him that “'this pace that you've pushed your body to is not good for your health'.”
   
The Louvre's huge Leonardo show runs until February 24.
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