The other Da Vinci code: did Leonardo paint himself into The Last Supper?

For years scholars have wondered what he looked like. But was the answer staring them in the face all along?

It is a question that has fascinated art historians: what did Leonardo da Vinci look like?

The Renaissance genius left no youthful self-portraits, although academics have long suspected that he may have inserted his likeness into one of his own masterpieces.

But now one art expert has proposed a tantalising new theory – that Leonardo actually depicted himself, twice, in The Last Supper, one of art's most famous paintings.

Ross King, the author of the international bestseller Brunelleschi's Dome, believes Leonardo used his own face for the apostles Thomas and James the Lesser in the 500-year-old mural in Milan.

His evidence lies partly in a little-known poem written in the 1490s – when Leonardo was painting The Last Supper. Its author, Gasparo Visconti, was a friend of the artist and, like him, a Sforza court employee.

In humorous verse, Visconti mocks an unnamed artist for putting his self-portrait into his paintings – "however handsome it may be" – and with his own "actions and ways", namely gestures and expressions.

Leonardo's own good looks were legendary, recorded by his 16th century biographer, Giorgio Vasari, as "endowed by heaven with beauty, grace and talent". And Thomas's upraised finger gesture in the painting was viewed by contemporaries as a Leonardo trademark.

Dr King also points to a red chalk drawing, believed to depict Leonardo around 1515, sketched by one of his assistants. It shows a classically handsome man with a Greek nose, flowing hair and a long beard – "a rare sight on the chins of 15th century Italians", he notes. In The Last Supper, Thomas – to the right of Christ – and James the Lesser – second from left – are reminiscent of that image – both with a Greek nose, flowing hair and a beard.

Dr King told The Independent: "The Last Supper is the only work that no one – either crackpot or academic – has tried to identify as a Leonardo portrait."

Bloomsbury Publishing will publish his latest research in Leonardo and The Last Supper on 30 August, coinciding with its choice as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.

Little of Leonardo's original mural, painted for the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery, survives today. Besides deteri oration, Allied bombing exposed it to the elements and its subsequent restoration left critics divided.

In his book, Dr King writes that "Leonardo-spotting has become a popular pastime" with numerous supposed identifications. He adds that the most famous is the supposed self-portrait of an old man in red chalk. However, as it is now believed to date from the 1490s – contemporary with The Last Supper – it cannot be a self-portrait.

Charles Nicholl, the noted Leonardo scholar, said: "Of all the apostles that [Leonardo] would wish to be identified with, I think Doubting Thomas would be top of his list because Leonardo was a great believer in asking questions rather than accepting what people tell you."

In the picture: Artists in their own works

Michelangelo Thought to have depicted himself as a flayed figure in The Last Judgment, 1533-41, in the Sistine Chapel. Far from a conceited gesture, he showed himself as one of the damned.

Velázquez In Las Meninas, his 1656 portrait of the Spanish royal family that plays with illusion and reality, he portrayed himself painting the painting.

Mantegna In Presentation at the Temple, c 1460, he is thought to be emerging from the darkness at the right of the composition.

Benozzo Gozzoli Put his self-portrait in the Procession of the Magi fresco, 1459-60. He places himself in the regal entourage, looking out at the viewer and wearing a red hat marked "Opus Benotii".

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam