Italian archaeologists close in on Leonardo’s best-known muse

FLORENCE, Italy: A human skeleton is seen at the excavation of a grave inside the medieval Convent of Saint Ursula earlier this week, during research for the burial site of Lisa Gherardini. (AFP PHOTO / CLAUDIO GIOVANNINI)

FLORENCE, Italy: In a crucial step toward unraveling the mysterious identity of the woman with the most enigmatic smile in the world, archaeologists Tuesday unearthed a skeleton in a rare state of preservation in Florence.

Several bodies have been discovered in the hunt to find the mortal remains of Lisa Gherardini – the Florentine noblewoman widely believed to have served as the muse for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

Silvano Vinceti, who heads up the team of Italian archaeologists, said this latest discovery in an abandoned convent was particularly exciting – though tests would still have to be carried out to ascertain the identity of the remains.

“I’d say that we’ve got to the really exciting part for researchers,” said Vinceti, a specialist who has dedicated his career to resolving art mysteries.

“The culmination of all our work where we’re getting close to answering the key question, ‘Will we or will we not find Lisa Gherardini’s remains?’

“Today we opened another tomb,” he continued, “with a complete skeleton which is very important because in the first phase of the research we did not find human remains – they had been moved to another location.”

The team began digging up the convent’s new cement floor last year, after fresh documents confirmed that Gherardini, the wife of rich Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, had lived in the convent after her husband died where she was looked after by her two daughters.

She was eventually interred there.

Del Giocondo is thought to have commissioned the portrait from the Renaissance artist, and though there is little proof, most art historians agree that Lisa Gherardini served as the primary model for the bewitching painting.

It was composed between 1503 and 1506 and now hangs in the Louvre museum in Paris.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2012, on page 16.




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