Hunt for the true Mona Lisa begins in Italy

Thu Apr 28, 2011 12:21pm EDT
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FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Researchers have begun their hunt for the remains of the woman who might have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, hoping to unravel a mystery that has baffled art historians for over five centuries.

A team of experts armed with a special radar device descended this week on a dilapidated convent in Florence where they believe the body of the woman who modeled for da Vinci back in the 16th century is buried.

The real Mona Lisa, Italian art historians say, was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo who is thought to have commissioned the portrait -- although there is no definitive proof of this.

The researchers say that if they can find her skull, they will be able to reconstruct her face and compare it with the painting.

The true identity of Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile have intrigued art lovers around the world.

According to the Louvre museum in Paris, where the painting is on display, the portrait was likely painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506 and could have been commissioned to mark one of two events: either when Gherardini and her husband bought their house or when their second son was born.

The key to solving the mystery may lie at the Saint Orsola convent, a structure in central Florence almost reduced to ruins.

Using radar equipment which can identify objects underground, scientists are scanning the floor in the small church to pinpoint areas where they may start digging for Gherardini's remains.

"We have a document confirming the burial of Gherardini in 1542 here in the convent" said Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage.   Continued...

<p>Experts work with a special radar as they search for the body of the woman whom they believe modelled for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, at a dilapidated convent in Florence, April 27, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>