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A professor from the Queen's University has stumbled upon literary references in Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

He believes that the work of art incorporates images inspired by the literary works of Roman poet Horace and Florentine poet Petrarch, a technique called 'invention'.

"The composition of the Mona Lisa is striking. Why does Leonardo have an attractive woman sitting on a balcony, while in the background there is an entirely different world that is vast and barren?" asks Ross Kilpatrick.

According to Kilpatrick, the painting alludes to Horace's Ode 1. 22 and two sonnets by Petrarch, all of which celebrate a devotion to a smiling young woman, with vows to love and follow the woman anywhere in the world, from damp mountains to arid deserts - the regions portrayed in the background of Mona Lisa.

He also reveals that da Vinci was aware of the poets and their works and the bridge seen in the background of the Mona Lisa has been identified as the same one from Petrarch's hometown of Arezzo.

"The Mona Lisa was made at a time when great literature was well known. It was quoted, referenced and celebrated," Kilpatrick added.

His findings have now been published in the Italian journal MEDICEA.