Gender fluid ante litteram

A painting by the genius Leonardo da Vinci unexpectedly provides us with an interesting reflection on the notion of “gender identity“, never as much debated as in recent times. What distinguishes and separates being a woman from being a man? Where is the borderline?

We premise that the panel with the Head of Christ now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan is not unanimously accepted as by Leonardo’s hand, despite the undoubted quality of the painting, the presence of a textbook “sfumato” and the convincing comparison of scientific data (to which Art -Test contributed).

However, we are absolutely convinced of this attribution, enraptured by the power of this image and also a by what we are about to tell you.

We carried out the IR reflectography of this panel, to discover the preparatory drawing, and we realized with immense amazement that the preparatory drawing for this image of Christ, depicts a woman.

The face in reflectography has no beard; the hair is less thick, in line with what were the beauty canons of the time, even if in an official portrait a woman would probably have demanded her hair gathered. But Leonardo had already produced the Scapigliata.

The shoulders are small and round, like those considered desirable by the canons of beauty of the time.

But above all, the folds of her dress widen for the unmistakable presence of a female breast.

The multilayer images show how the artist had modified these characteristics with a few brush strokes to change the folds of the garment, and make them become vertical, to raise the shoulder line and to add beard and lengthen the hair.

A few touches, no changes to the very intense gaze, and a woman becomes a man. The symbols of the trinity are added and here is the head of a Christ. Who is born a woman, metaphorically.

A very strong message, a secret that had to remain so until the analyses literally brought it back to light.

Who if not Leonardo could dare so much?

PS. If you want to see more, reflectographic images have been published in Leonardo in France (SKIRA), and in “Leonardo Da Vinci and Gian Giacomo Caprotti Called Salai’ : The Enigma of a Painting”, by Maurizio Zecchini, ed. Marsilio

Anna Pelagotti