Researchers in Florence, Italy, are opening a centuries-old family tomb in hopes of solving one of the art world's most pressing mysteries. The tomb in question belongs to the family of Lisa Gherardini, the 16th century Florentine woman thought to have been the face of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."
According to NBC, a team of specialists have begun a series of DNA tests on three different skeletons found in an Ursuline convent in Florence. The bones were originally discovered in 2012 and are believed to include the remains of Gherardini, the wife of a merchant who at one point lived across the street from da Vinci.
Now, researchers are turning to the Gherardini family tomb, located in Florence's Basilica della Santissima Annuziata, where they hope to excavate the skeletons of the supposed muse's sons. The experts plan on comparing DNA evidence from the convent excavation to the bones in the basilica in order to verify that they indeed have access to Mrs. Gherardini's remains.
"Right now we are carrying out Carbon-14 tests on three of the eight skeletons found in St. Ursula." explained Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for the valuation of historic, cultural and environmental assets, to ANSA. "The Carbon-14 test will tell us which of the three dates back to the 1500s. Only then will we know which skeleton to do the final DNA test on."
The 16th century art historian Giorgio Vasari was the first to identify Gherardini as the smirking female in Leonardo's masterpiece. A number of academics since then have agreed that the former neighbor is the most likely suspect, speculating that her husband commissioned the "La Gioconda," as the painting is known in Italy, himself.
If DNA testing proves that the skeletal remains are indeed Gherardini's, the next step would be to reconstruct the woman's face, based on the found bone structure, and measure that against Leonardo's famous portrait.
Perhaps then we can understand why Mona Lisa pursed her lips hundreds of years ago. Maybe it was bad teeth after all?