The dig that may have unearthed Leonardo's muse

Archaeologists claim bones found in basement of Florentine convent belong to Leonardo's model

There's no trace of that celebrated, knowing expression, but archaeologists hope that one of two skeletons unearthed in a Tuscan convent will be shown to be that of the model who became Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. In their hunt for the remains of the most famous portrait-sitter in history, experts have been digging in the former convent of St Ursula in Florence since April. They have previously found and disregarded the bones of five other people.

But the team, led by Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage, is convinced that remains of Mona Lisa, or Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, are buried in the basement of the building.

He said that armed with the skull of Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Renaissance silk merchant, he would be able to make an accurate reconstruction of the sitter's face.

"If everything goes as planned, we will find Gherardini and with her skull we will be able to reconstruct her face thanks to some sophisticated technology," Mr Vinceti said yesterday.

"After that we will be able to compare the face to that of Mona Lisa and maybe for the first time will get an answer that will be based on highly sophisticated technology that does not make errors," he told Sky TV. "With this reconstruction of the face there is a margin of error between four and eight per cent so we will know whether Leonardo used Gherardini or we will be able to draw other conclusions."

The latest two skeletons, one of which was in fragments, were discovered in the same grave in the convent's basement. Researchers say that Gherardini spent the last years of her life at the convent, looked after by her two daughters who were nuns, and was buried there when she died in 1542, aged 63.

One of his colleagues, anthropologist Irene Baldi, said the project would provide useful information about the all the people buried there. "Whether the bodies were moved here from another place or buried in a container, if there was a coffin or not, or a cushion under the head, this is the information that we are searching for," she said.

But not all experts are convinced by the claims of Dr Vinceti and his team. Dr Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the US, said on her blog: "Although the excavation is being carried out in a professional manner, Vinceti's quest to dig up the 'real' Mona Lisa is not grounded in scientific research methodology." She added: "The news media's breathless coverage of it threatens to signal to the public that archaeologists are frivolous with their time, energy, and research money."

And one of Gherardini's descendants, the Italian aristocrat Natalia Guicciadini Strozzi, has described the researchers' grave-digging project as a "sacrilegious act". "What difference would finding her remains make to the allure of Leonardo's painting?" she said recently. But Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, which the Renaissance genius began painting in 1503 before taking it with him to France, appears to be almost an obsession for Mr Vinceti.

Last month it emerged he had handed over 150,000 Italian signatures to the French Minister of Culture, Aurelie Filippetti, calling on the Louvre to hand over the painting to its "home city" of Florence.

But the Louvre has already said it has no intention of returning the masterpiece.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR administrator - London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Office and HR Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

£25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project