Florence

Florence tomb opened in bid to find Mona Lisa model

'Son's DNA may be the key'

Florence tomb opened in bid to find Mona Lisa model

(By Christopher Livesay) Florence, August 9 - Scientists in Florence on Friday cracked open the family tomb of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo - the beguiling model who sat for Leonardo da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa portrait - hoping to compare her son's DNA to that of a skeleton believed to be her own. Remains thought to belong to the woman with the enigmatic smile were exhumed in an archeological dig in a central Florence convent a year ago. Her family tomb in the Martyrs' Crypt behind the main altar of the Santissima Annunziata church in Florence contains the remains of Gherardini's husband Bartolomeo Del Giocondo, who commissioned the world's most famous painting, and of his two sons, Piero and Bartolomeo. "Only Piero was the offspring of Francesco and Lisa, while Bartolomeo was the son of the first wife," said Silvano Vinceti, who is charge of the National Committee for the Valuation of Historic, Cultural and Environmental Assets. "Thus the goal is to understand if the DNA from one of the sons matches that of the female DNA (uncovered at the convent)". The family tomb was opened Friday for the first time in 300 years. Researchers were pleased to find that centuries of flooding from the nearby Arno river had left a fortuitous layer of mud on the bodies that helped their preservation. Scientists can now compare DNA samples to that of the skeleton found in July 2012 in the basement of a former Ursuline convent. "Right now we are carrying out Carbon-14 tests on three of the eight skeletons found in St Ursula, which could be the age Lisa Gherardini was when she died", said Vinceti. "The Carbon-14 test will tell us which of the three dates back to the 1500s. Only then will we know which skeleton to do the final DNA test on". The results of the tests are expected by late September. The long-running hunt for the iconic da Vinci model culminated when researchers in Florence uncovered the base of a 15th-century altar in St Ursula, which they firmly believed led to the tomb containing the remains of Mona Lisa. "After 1500, only two women were buried here: Mona Lisa Gherardini, in 1542, and another noblewoman, Maria del Riccio," said a statement from researchers. The researchers added that the dead were traditionally buried near church altars at the time, and that Carbon-14 analysis would be necessary to properly date the recovered remains. The search pinning Gherardini as the model for the Louvre-housed painting was first justified by historical research by pioneering 16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari. It was then further spearheaded by a discovery several years ago in Germany of a document written in Latin by Leonardo's scribe saying that a woman called Lisa had been the model for the masterpiece. Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti published a book in 2007 arguing the former convent "must be" the last resting place of La Gioconda, as Italians call the Mona Lisa after the surname of her husband. He said his research has wiped away all doubt about the identity of La Gioconda, who is believed to have joined the Ursuline nuns in old age. "It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco Del Giocondo - and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina," Pallanti said. Most modern scholars have now agreed with Pallanti that the Mona Lisa sitter was Lisa Del Giocondo, who according to the Italian researcher became a nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63. So now the proof lies in the DNA if the bones found in the convent are those of the wife and model turned nun. Gherardini and Del Giocondo were married in 1495 when the bride was 16 and the groom 35. It has frequently been suggested that Del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint his Mona Lisa (mona is the standard Italian contraction for madonna, or "my lady,") to mark his wife's pregnancy or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502. While pregnancy or childbirth have been put forward in the past as explanations for Mona Lisa's cryptic smile, there is no shortage of theories - some less plausible than others. One group of medical researchers has maintained that the sitter's mouth is so firmly shut because she was undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis which turned her teeth black. An American dentist claimed that the tight-lipped expression was typical of people who have lost their front teeth, while a Danish doctor was convinced she suffered from congenital palsy which affected the left side of her face and this is why her hands are overly large. A French surgeon has also put forth his view that she was semi-paralysed, perhaps as the result of a stroke, and that this explained why one hand looks relaxed and the other tense. Leading American feminist Camille Paglia simply concluded that the cool, appraising smile showed that "what Mona Lisa is ultimately saying is that males are unnecessary".

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