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DNA tests could confirm Mona Lisa model's identity

Results on bones linked to iconic work's sitter 'in four months'

14 February, 16:58
DNA tests could confirm Mona Lisa model's identity (ANSA) - Florence, February 14 - Italian experts are closing in on conclusive evidence of the identity of the sitter for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of the most iconic works in the history of art. Art historians believe that model was Lisa Del Giocondo neé Gherardini, wife of wealthy Florentine merchant Francesco Del Giocondo, who died in a convent in the Tuscan capital in the mid-16th century.

Upcoming DNA tests on the "most significant" skeleton in a batch unearthed in the convent two years ago will provide clinching proof of her identity, the head of the project said Friday.

"The final phase is starting, the one that can't go wrong," said Silvano Vinceti, an art sleuth tasked by Italy's heritage committee.

"We are hoping for a positive result," he said, adding that the tests will take about four months.

The tests aim to find out if the bones exhumed in 2012 date back to the same period as that of the model who sat for Leonardo, whose enigmatic half-smile thrills visitors to Paris's Louvre museum and has become one of the most replicated images in the world's cultural industry. Vinceti said the skeleton's DNA would be compared with that about to be taken from the remains of Gherardini's children, buried in a family tomb in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church.

If there is a match, the woman immortalised by the Renaissance master, will be identified at last.

Italians call the Mona Lisa 'La Gioconda' both because of her husband's surname, De Giocondo, and because 'gioconda' in Italian means a "playful woman". Leonardo buff Giuseppe Pallanti published a book in 2007 arguing the former convent "must be" her last resting place. It took a few years for scholars to agree with him, before the dig was started in 2011. According to Pallanti, Lisa del Giocondo became an Ursuline nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63.

The couple were married in 1495 when the bride was 16 and the groom 35.

It has frequently been suggested that del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint his Mona Lisa (mona is the standard Italian contraction for madonna, or "my lady,") to mark his wife's pregnancy or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502.

Although pregnancy or childbirth have been put forward in the past as explanations for perhaps the most cryptic smile in Western art, other theories have not been lacking - some less plausible than others.

Some argued that the painting is a self-portrait of the artist, or one of his favourite male lovers in disguise, citing the fact that Da Vinci never actually relinquished the painting and kept it with him up until his death in Amboise, France in 1519.

The most curious theories have been provided by medical experts-cum-art lovers.

One group of medical researchers has maintained that the sitter's mouth is so firmly shut because she was undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis which turned her teeth black.

An American dentist has claimed that the tight-lipped expression was typical of people who have lost their front teeth, while a Danish doctor was convinced she suffered from congenital palsy which affected the left side of her face and this is why her hands are overly large.

A French surgeon has also put forth his view that she was semi-paralysed, perhaps as the result of a stroke, and that this explained why one hand looks relaxed and the other tense.

Leading American feminist Camille Paglia simply concluded that the cool, appraising smile showed that "what Mona Lisa is ultimately saying is that males are unnecessary".