Italian archaeologists to dig up remains of 'Mona Lisa model'
Italian archaeologists are to search for a long-lost tomb which may contain the remains of the woman who inspired the Mona Lisa.
A team of researchers announced on Tuesday that they will carry out excavations beneath a convent in Florence, believed to be the burial place of Lisa Gherardini.
She was the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant and is believed by most scholars to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s famously enigmatic portrait.
The archaeologists' ultimate aim is to find enough skull fragments to be able to reconstruct her face, enabling a direct comparison to be made with the Mona Lisa.
It could solve a mystery which has intrigued art historians for centuries – the identity of the subject of the world's best known painting, which hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In addition to the suggestion that the Mona Lisa was based on Gherardini, it has also been proposed that the painting was inspired by Florentine noblewomen, courtesans, street prostitutes, the artist's gay lover and even da Vinci himself.
The team will be led by Silvano Vinceti, an art historian who last year announced that he had found the remains of the Renaissance genius Caravaggio, although his claim was disputed by other scholars.
Digging will take place beneath the former Convent of St Ursula in central Florence, where Gherardini is believed to have died in her sixties in 1542.
The team will use ground-penetration radar to search for forgotten tombs inside the building.
If they discover human remains, they will sift through the bones to identify any that are compatible with a woman of Gherardini's age.
They then plan to conduct carbon dating and extract DNA, which will be compared to that extracted from the bones of Gherardini's children, some of whom are buried in a basilica in Florence.
But there is doubt over the project before it has even started.
Giuseppe Pallanti, an authority on da Vinci, claimed last year that Gherardini's remains were most likely dug up 30 years ago, when work was carried out to convert the former convent into a police barracks, and dumped in a municipal rubbish site on the edge of Florence.
The work was carried out long before the discovery of Gherardini's death certificate, which suggested that she was buried in the convent.