Published February 18, 2014
Researchers trying to identify the model for Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" have started DNA tests on a skeleton found in a Florence church in a bid to link the remains with recently discovered bones believed to be those of the Renaissance icon's descendants.
The identity of the woman painted by Leonardo in 1504 has long been suspected to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich silk merchant who died around 1542.
Last year, Silvano Vinceti, the head of Italy's National Committee for the valuation of historic, cultural and environmental assets, uncovered several skeletons in the basement of the Sant’Orsola convent in Florence, one of which is believed to be the model's.
The DNA test seeks to link the skeleton with bones of Lisa Gherardini’s relatives buried in a chapel in the Basilica Santissima Annuziata, located a short distance from Florence's famed Duomo cathedral, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“If we don’t find her, art historians can continue to speculate about who the model really was,” Vinceti told the newspaper. “She is androgynous. This has a cultural significance.”
If the DNA tests are positive, experts plan to reconstruct the woman's skull. If the facial reconstruction of Gherardini’s remains bears little likeness to the painting, it may suggest that Leonardo used multiple models in the process of painting the portrait, the Journal reported.
The famous painting draws millions to the Louvre Museum in Paris each year.
In 2011, Vinceti suggested Leonardo may have used his apprentice, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, known as Salai, during the painting process. Salai worked with Leonardo for more than two decades starting in 1490, though there are no known paintings of him.
Vinceti told The Associated Press at the time that Leonardo worked on the portrait at various intervals for several years and was subjected to different influences and sources of inspiration, including noblewoman Beatrice D'Este, who was married to Milanese ruler Ludovico Sforza.
"The 'Mona Lisa' must be read at various levels, not just as a portrait," Vinceti said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.