Searching for the Tomb of Mona Lisa

It’s strange to think of coming face to face (so to speak) with the remains of the woman with the most famous face in the world, but archaeologists and art historians think they may be close.

We know some things about Lisa del Giocondo, including the fact that two of her daughters, Camilla and Marietta, became nuns. Lisa herself may have spent the last four years of her life at the convent of Sant’Orsola, where she may have died at the age of 63. (Or later. And somewhere else. Records are sketchy.)

Most likely, she would have been buried on the grounds of the convent, which is where art historian Silvano Vinceti (who found the bones of Caravaggio) expects to find her:

Vinceti, now head of the National Committee for the Enhancement of Historical, Cultural and Environmental Heritage, stressed that “this is a search that is justified by historical documents, starting with (pioneering art historian Giorgio) Vasari”.

He said the clincher was the recent discovery in Germany of a document written in Latin by Leonardo’s scribe which said a woman called Lisa had been the model for the masterpiece now housed in the Louvre. Vinceti and his team have been using a ‘georadar’ device to scan underneath the old convent of St Ursula to find the DNA of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo and compare it with that of two her children buried in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata church.

Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti published a book in 2007 arguing the former convent “must be” the last resting place of La Gioconda, as the Italians call the Mona Lisa because of the surname of her husband, del Giocondo.

Pallanti said he was “sure she’s down there”.

He said his research has wiped away all doubt about the identity of La Gioconda, who is believed to have joined the Ursuline nuns in old age

“It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco del Giocondo – and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina,” Pallanti said.

Last year’s search, which went on from April until funds ran out in December, “only discovered bones that were about 200 years older than Lisa’s would be,” Vinceti said.

As well as the key DNA match, carbon-dating and other tests will also be carried out by the University of Bologna.