Have Experts Discovered the Bones of Leonardo's Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa Mystery
Visitors to the Louvre museum in Paris photograph Leonardo da Vinci's famous "Mona Lisa." The real-life woman that inspired the painting has long been a mystery, but researchers believe they are getting closer to figuring it out. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Italian researchers believe they are closer to confirming the identity of the Renaissance woman who posed for one of the world's most famous paintings: Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

Experts have believed for some time that the enigmatic model with the mysterious smile in Leonardo's masterpiece, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant. Now, after four years spent excavating human remains buried for centuries beneath a derelict convent in Florence, researchers believe they have finally found her.

Historical records suggest that Gherardini, who spent her last years in the Sant'Orsola convent in Florence, was laid to rest at the site. On Thursday, researchers announced that carbon-14 dating showed the bones they found in the convent date from around the time that Gherardini died, in 1542, when she was 63.

"I'm convinced it is her," Silvano Vinceti, an art historian who led the research team, told The Telegraph.

The next stages of the investigation will prove highly challenging. Some scholars say that as dozens of bodies were buried beneath the convent over several decades, the remains could belong to someone else. So, DNA samples will need to be taken from the bone fragments and compared with DNA extracted from the remains of two of Gherardini's children. Those remains have been badly damaged by flooding in the tomb in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.

And even if the bones are proved to belong to Gherardini, scholars are divided over whether she really was the model for the "Mona Lisa." The absence of a skull has also thwarted efforts to reconstruct the face of the noblewoman, making it nearly impossible to compare it to the painting.

But head researcher Vinceti, who leads the investigation as part of the National Committee of Historic, Cultural and Environmental Heritage, told The Guardian: "The odds that the bones belong to her are extremely high."

Have Experts Discovered the Bones of Leonardo's Mona Lisa? | Tech & Science