The Italian Almanac

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Mona Lisa

The Hunt for Mona Lisa

The hunt is set to start for the tomb and possible remains of the model for Leonardo's Mona Lisa in an ex-convent in her home town, Florence.

"I'm sure her tomb is in there," said Leonardo scholar Giuseppe Pallanti, who in 2007 said he had traced the burial place of merchant's wife Lisa Gherardini to the former Convent of St Ursula, in the heart of Florence. Radar scans have located a crypt under one of the ex-convent's two churches. Once the DNA of the woman thought to be Gherardini is found, it will be compared with that of two of her children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church.

Despite its central location, the ex-seat of the Ursulines is now an extremely run-down, almost dilapidated building. The sprawling three-story Sant'Orsola building dates back to 1309 but ceased to be used as a convent in 1810, when it was turned into a tobacco factory. It was used to shelter WWII refugees in the 1940s and '50s before housing university classrooms in the following decades and then falling into disuse and becoming a dump. The site has stood semi-derelict with its windows bricked-up since building work to re-develop it as offices for Italy's Guardia di Finanza tax police were abandoned in 1985.

The chances of finding the tomb of merchant Francesco del Giocondo's wife are slim, according to British experts cited on the Internet. "Hopes of tracing her tomb have been dashed after it emerged that building works at the site in the 1980s saw its crypts wantonly excavated and their contents destroyed". But Italian experts who are set to start combing the site think there is reason to believe the tomb might have survived "in natural rock cavities that may have housed a small graveyard on the margins of what were once the cloisters".

Pallanti has said his research has wiped away all doubt about the identity of La Gioconda, as the Italians call the Mona Lisa because of the surname of her husband, Giocondo. "It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco del Giocondo - and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina," he said when he unveiled his findings in 2007. 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.