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Researchers opened a centuries-old Florence tomb on Friday in a search for remains that could confirm the identity of the woman whose enigmatic smile Leonardo da Vinci immortalized in the “Mona Lisa”, one of the world’s most famous paintings. A round hole, just big enough for a person to wriggle through, was cut in the stone church floor above the family crypt of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, whose wife Lisa Gherardini is thought to have sat for the Renaissance master in the early 16th century.
Historians say Gherardini – whose married name ‘Gioconda’ is used in Italy to refer to the Mona Lisa – spent her last years at the Saint Orsola convent, a dilapidated building where the hunt for her bones began last year.
Vinceti believes one of the three could be Lisa Gherardini. Vinceti hopes some of the bones lying in the cramped underground room behind the Santissima Annunziata’s main altar will belong to at least one blood relation of Leonardo’s muse, probably her son Piero. Once a DNA match is made, Vinceti says an image of Gherardini’s face can be generated from the Saint Orsola skull and compared with the painting, the biggest attraction in the Louvre museum in Paris.
The painting, which draws millions of visitors each year, is famous for the sitter’s mysterious half-smile. The Louvre says it was probably painted between 1503 and 1506.
Opening the Giocondo family tomb for the first time in 300 years is a critical phase in the search by Vinceti and his team, who in 2010 said they had discovered that the mysterious death in 1610 of another Italian master, Caravaggio, was likely caused by lead from his paint.
“Was Gherardini the model for the Mona Lisa? Or was it some other model, as some people say? Or is it just a construction of the painter’s fantasy?”