The Italian Almanac

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Mona lisa

The Search for Mona Lisa

A skeleton found in the former convent in Florence where archaeologists are searching for the remains of Leonardo's Mona Lisa may have belonged to a woman. Archaeologists have been searching for the remains of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, who died in Florence in 1542, and is believed to have modeled for Leonardo's celebrated portrait, now hanging in the Louvre.

"Based on preliminary analyses of the cranium and the pelvis we're tending towards the hypothesis that this was a female," said Bologna University anthropologist, Giorgio Gruppioni. He added that the skeleton was whole and connected, but had partially collapsed under the weight of the earth. Further excavation will be needed to confirm the hypothesis. The skeleton's bones have become fragile due to the humidity of the earth. They emerged slowly as archaeologists removed surrounding dirt with brushes and a small vacuum cleaner.

Only a battery of scientific tests will prove whether or not the skeleton indeed belonged to a woman who was a contemporary of Mona Lisa, said art historian Silvano Vinceti, who is overseeing the project for the National Committee for the Enhancement of Historic, Cultural and Environmental Assets. These include a carbon-14 test to determine the skeleton's historical period, a hystological exam to determine its age, and a test to compare its DNA with that of two of Mona Lisa's children, buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church

The objective of the dig is to find Mona Lisa's remains, then reconstruct her face and compare it to Leonardo's painting.

Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti has argued that the former Ursuline convent "must be" the last resting place of La Gioconda. According to the Italian researcher, she 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. Archaeologists were led to the site of the dig in the sprawling three-story Saint Ursula building dating back to 1309, by references in historical documents and by georadar scans.