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Italian researchers hope to dig up remains of the real Mona Lisa

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Genavese Cavera
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« on: April 09, 2011, 11:50:57 pm »

Italian researchers hope to dig up remains of the real Mona Lisa

Excavators in Florence are searching for the bones of Lisa Gherardini, thought to be the model for Leonardo's painting

Associated Press in Rome

The Guardian, Tuesday 5 April 2011

Researchers hope the excavation of a convent in Florence will lead them to the bones of the woman who posed for Leonardo da Vinci's painting. Photograph: Amel Pain/AP

Italian researchers are planning to dig up bones in a Florence convent to try to identify the remains of a Renaissance woman believed to be the model for the Mona Lisa. If successful, the research might help ascertain the identity of the woman depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece a mystery that has puzzled scholars and art lovers for centuries and generated countless theories.

The project aims to locate the remains of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. Tradition has long linked Gherardini to the painting, which is known in Italian as La Gioconda and in French as La Joconde. Giorgio Vasari, a 16th-century artist and biographer, wrote that Leonardo painted a portrait of del Giocondo's wife.

Gherardini was born in 1479. A few years ago, an amateur Italian historian said he had found a death certificate showing she died on 15 July 1542, and her final resting place was the Convent of St Ursula in central Florence. That is where the digging will begin later his month, said Silvano Vinceti, an art historian and the project leader.

The project is part of a trend of employing CSI-like methods in art history, for example to find out about an artist's technique, discover details hidden in a painting or even learn about an artist's life or death. The group led by Vinceti has already reconstructed the faces of some Italian artists on the basis of their skulls, and last year it said it had identified the bones of Caravaggio and discovered a possible cause of death, 400 years after the artist died in mysterious circumstances.

The Mona Lisa project uses some of the same techniques applied to the Caravaggio investigation.

First, the researchers will use ground-penetration radar to search for hidden tombs inside the convent. Then they will search the bones to identify ones that are compatible with Gherardini's bones that belonged to a woman who died in her 60s in the period in question. The group will also look for specific characteristics such as traces of possible diseases or bone structure to match what is known of Gherardini's life.

If such bones are identified, the researchers will 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 also in Florence.

Finally, if skull fragments are found, depending on how well-preserved they are, the group might attempt a facial reconstruction. This step will be crucial to ascertain whether Gherardini was indeed the model for the Mona Lisa and thus the owner of that famous smile.

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