500-year-old mystery of Mona Lisa's identity on verge of being solved

Lisa Gherardini is widely believed to be the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece

Zachary Davies Boren
Friday 25 September 2015 12:47
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The original Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci
The original Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci

The mystery surrounding the identity of the Mona Lisa may about to be solved.

After years examining the remains of bodies buried below the Sant'Orsola convent in Florence, Italian researchers think they have found the bones of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo — the noblewoman widely believed to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci's most famous work.

According to art detective Silvano Vinceti, carbon testing on a set of bones - including a femur - from the tomb have been dated to the time of death of Gherardini.

The wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant, Gherardini died in 1542 aged 63.

After her husband's death, she had moved in with her daughter Marietta, who was a nun.

Records indicate she was buried beneath this chapel.

A 2011 dig inside the Sant'Orsola convent in Florence

Vinceti, who leads the National Committee of Historic, Cultural and Environmental Heritage, is convinced he has found her: "The odds that the bones belong to her are extremely high.

"There are converging elements, above and beyond the results of the carbon-14 tests, that say we may well have found Lisa’s grave.

"I'm speaking of historical, anthropological and archaeological analyses that have been carried out very rigorously."

But the data isn't perfect. There are only a few remains, and no skull, which means the Mona Lisa face cannot be digitally reconstructed.

After centuries underground, the her sons Bartoloemo and Piero are at this point too damaged to for a DNA comparison, though Vinceti is confident further analysis can be performed in a few years time — when they've got more DNA and the right technology.

Researcher Giorgio Gruppioni said: "Our biggest problem has been the fact that the fragments were very fragmented, very deteriorated."

And there's still questions over whether Gherardini is in fact the Mona Lisa.

Art historians long argued over her identity, but a consensus emerged in 2005 when a 500-year-old note by a government clerk was found that claimed Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting.

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the world's most famous painting. Every year, about 6 million people visit the Musée du Louvre in Paris to see it.

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