Archaeologists Go Digging for Mona Lisa DNA
August 12, 2013
When is the Mona Lisa not the Mona Lisa?
That question might be answered soon, if the results of DNA testing pan out the way scientists want.
A group of researchers in Italy have opened a tomb containing the bones of the children of Lisa del Giocondo, who was thought to be Leondardo's inspiration for the Mona Lisa, in order to gain DNA samples from the children's bones and match it to DNA found on a body believed to that of their mother, buried in a different place. A DNA match would enable the scientists to recreate a portrait of Giocondo, which might just match the famous painting.
The story goes way back to the end of the 15th Century, to the marriage of 15-year-old Lisa Gherardini to Francesco del Giocondo. That marriage took place in 1495. Francesco and Lisa had five children. After Francecso died, Lisa moved into the St. Ursula convent. She is thought to have been buried there. Francesco and his children were buried in a family crypt.
The Mona Lisa was painted during a period of several years in the early 1500s. The great artist did not entirely finish the painting and carried it with him for about a decade, working on it off and on between other projects. When Leonardo moved to France, he had the painting with him. His final patron was King Francis I, and the painting remained a royal possession, forming a part of the original collection that became the first exhibition displayed when the Louvre opened, in 1793.
Leonardo did not leave definitive records of who his model was for what many think is the world's most recognizable face. After a number of years, many historians came to believe that the model was indeed Lisa del Giocondo. As well, many art experts think that the person who commissioned the portrait in the first place was Francesco del Giocondo himself, who wanted to commemorate the birth (or impending birth) of one of their children.
"Mona" is thought to be a contraction for "madonna," which means "my lady" in Italian.
Other theories about the model's identity have emerged through the years, including one theory that the model was one of Leonardo's male apprentices and another theory that the painting was a form of self-portrait.
The DNA testing is expected to be done within a few months. A possible sketch of Lisa del Giocondo could take a few months more.