Florence (Italie) - Is this the skull of the Mona Lisa? Bones found at site of alleged model's burial
Is this the skull of the Mona Lisa? Bones found at site of alleged model's burial
The secret behind the famously enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, the world's most famous painting, could soon be solved.
Archaeologists on a dig in Italy claim to have discovered the skull of the woman who posed for Leonardo's da Vinci's masterpiece.
The excavation team revealed over the weekend that it had found a crypt after a two-week search at an abandoned convent in Florence.
But the grave beneath St. Ursula convent, believed to be the final resting place of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, has now yielded a female-sized skull.
Key discovery: An Italian archaeology team has uncovered a skull it believes to be that of the woman who posed for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
Enigmatic find: The human bones found at the excavation site in the Saint Ursula convent in Florence are thought to be those of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo
The merchant's wife is widely believed to have been the life model for da Vinci's best-known work.
Officials say the skull was found five feet under the convent's original floor along with other fragments of human ribs and vertebrae.
Now scientists will compare the DNA in the bones with the remains of the model's two children who were buried nearby in an attempt to authenticate the find.
If scientists can confirm the skull belongs to the model, forensic artists will then attempt to reconstruct her face to see how it compares to the 500-year-old version painted by da Vinci - and perhaps solve the riddle of the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile in the process.
Archeologist Silvano Vinceti, who is in charge of the dig, explained: 'We don't know yet if the bones belong to one single skeleton or more than one.
'But this confirms our hypothesis that in St.Ursula convent there are still human bones and we cannot exclude that among them there are bones belonging to Lisa Gherardini.'
Resting place: The courtyard of the Saint Ursula convent in Florence, where archaeologists have been digging for the last two weeks
Cameras ready: Researchers dig into the underground tombs inside the convent while a crowd of media watches for discoveries
The initial discovery - made using ground penetrating radar and ancient maps and documents - came after a foot of modern concrete was removed and unearthed a layer of ancient, 90-centimeter wide bricks.
Professor Vinceti said of the first discovery: 'This is a very exciting development and the find is consistent with our records and our preliminary research.
'The crypt we have found is the one that was mentioned in church records from 1495 and was reached via a grate and then a staircase.
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'We also know from those records that in 1625 there was a second crypt and these are the ones we have found.'
Present on the dig is Natalia Gucciardini Strozzi, who is related to Lisa Gherardini and who is also a close friend of Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
She said: 'It was so emotional being here - I didn't think I would get so emotional. I am certain that this is the final resting place of Lisa Gherardini.
Lisa Gheradini, who died in 1542, was the wife of a rich silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. In Italy the Mona Lisa is known as La Gioconda.
Most modern historians agree that the lady depicted in the Mona Lisa was Lisa del Giocondo, who became a nun after her husband's death. She 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 and it has been suggested that the da Vinci was commissioned the portrait to mark her pregnancy.
It is not the first time that Professor Vinceti has used such techniques in his work - last year similar methods were used to locate and identify the remains of Caravaggio, another Renaissance master.
Last year in a Dan Brown-style mystery professor Vincenti also claimed that a hidden message could be seen in the eyes of the Mona Lisa after examining them with a high powered magnifying glass.
The Mona Lisa is an oil on panel painting owned by the French government and the image is so widely recognised and caricatured that it is considered the most famous painting in the world.
Da Vinci started to paint it in 1503 or 1504 and finished it in 1519, shortly before his death, and after he had moved to France.