Who Was Mona Lisa? DNA Testing On Bones Found In Florence May ID Da Vinci's Model

By Josh Lieberman on February 18, 2014 12:32 PM EST

real mona lisa
Who was the real Mona Lisa? DNA testing of bones found in Florence may be further evidence that it was Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers have begun DNA testing on the bones of a woman who is believed to be the model for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. In August, the possible remains of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, a 15th-century merchant's wife and neighbor of da Vinci's, were removed from behind the main altar of the Florence's Basilica della Santissima Annuziata. Now art sleuth and historian Silvano Vinceti plans to extract DNA from the bones and compare it against Gherardini's confirmed relatives; if it's a match, Vinceti will use the skull to make a 3D reconstruction of the face.  

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"If we don't find her, art historians can continue to speculate about who the model really was," Vinceti said

Most historians believe that Gherardini posed for da Vinci between 1503 and 1506, though da Vinci may have worked on the painting until 1517. The painting may have been commissioned by Francesco Del Giocondo, Gheradini's wife, to celebrate her pregnancy or their purchase of a new house. In 2005, a researcher at Germany's University Library of Heidelberg discovered a note in a manuscript written in 1503 by Agostino Vespucci which stated that da Vinci was painting a portrait of Gherardini. But some have pointed out that this note may have referred to a portrait that wasn't the Mona Lisa.   

Other theories surrounding the identity of Mona Lisa-and they abound-speculate that the subject is da Vinci's mother, or maybe it's Princess Isabella of Naples, or possibly it's various noblewomen or perhaps none of the above. One theory floated by Vinceti holds that the subject of the painting is Salai, one of da Vinci's students and the presumed model of two da Vinci paintings, St. John the Baptist and Bacchus. Whoever the model is, his or her cryptic smile may be close-lipped in order to hide teeth blackened from syphilis, one far-out theory holds.

If Vinceti's computer reconstruction of Gherardini bears a resemblance to Mona Lisa, it will be one more piece of evidence that Gherardini was indeed the model, though even this bit of evidence wouldn't exactly be a smoking gun. If it looks nothing like Mona Lisa, it could still be that Gherardini was one of multiple models who sat for da Vinci.

Whether or not the Mona Lisa mystery is ever solved, one thing is for certain: George Clooney believes that the painting does not belong in France and should be returned to Italy posthaste. 

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