Uncovered altar 'may lead to Mona Lisa remains'

'Could be hidden in the area' Florence tomb hunters say

Uncovered altar 'may lead to Mona Lisa remains'

(ANSA) - Florence, July 17 - Researchers in Florence said Tuesday they had uncovered the base of a 15th-century altar that may lead to the tomb and remains of the model for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. "It makes it more likely that the remains of the noblewoman are hidden in the area," said a statement from researchers at the former convent of Saint Ursula. "After 1500, only two women were burried here: Mona Lisa Gherardini, in 1542, and another noblewoman, Maria del Riccio. The researchers added that the dead were traditionally burried near church altars at the time, and that carbon-14 analysis would be neccessary to properly date any recovered remains. If enough is discovered, experts may be able to reconstruct the woman's face and find out more about that famous smile. "I'm confident we're going to find something," said Silvano Vinceti, an art historian who has found the bones of Caravaggio and reconstructed the faces of other artists based on their skulls. Vinceti, now head of the National Committee for the Enhancement of Historical, Cultural and Environmental Heritage, stressed that "this is a search that is justified by historical documents, starting with (pioneering art historian Giorgio) Vasari". He said the clincher was the recent discovery in Germany of a document written in Latin by Leonardo's scribe which said a woman called Lisa had been the model for the masterpiece now housed in the Louvre. Vinceti and his team have been using a 'georadar' device to scan underneath the old convent to find the DNA of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo and compare it with that of her two children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church. Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti published a book in 2007 arguing the former convent "must be" the last resting place of La Gioconda, as the Italians call the Mona Lisa because of the surname of her husband, del Giocondo. Pallanti said he was "sure she's down there". 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. Last year's search, which went on from April until funds ran out in December, "only discovered bones that were about 200 years older than Lisa's would be," Vinceti said. As well as the key DNA match, carbon-dating and other tests will also be carried out by the University of Bologna. 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. The couple 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. Although pregnancy or childbirth have been put forward in the past as explanations for Mona Lisa's cryptic smile, other theories have not been lacking - some less plausible than others. Some have argued that the painting is a self-portrait of the artist, or one of his favourite male lovers in disguise, citing the fact that Da Vinci never actually relinquished the painting and kept it with him up until his death in Amboise, France in 1519. The most curious theories have been provided by medical experts-cum-art lovers. 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 has 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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