Pieced-together skull may prove Mona Lisa's identity

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Dec 18th, 2012 @ 10:39am

FLORENCE, Italy — Researchers are hoping skull fragments of the woman thought to be the "Mona Lisa" model will provide definitive proof of whether the woman was actually Leonardo da Vinci's muse.

The iconic painting has long been a mystery to researchers, who have tried for years to verify the woman's identity, as well as the background of the painting and the source of Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile.

Italian researchers now say they have found a way to potentially verify the identity of the woman in the painting, who is thought to be Lisa Gherardini, the second wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant.

The painting is known as "La Gioconda" or variations thereof in many languages due to its tie to Gherardini, and researchers hope that by identifying Gherardini's remains, they can compare the bone structure of the woman in the painting to that of da Vinci's supposed muse.

About the Mona Lisa:
Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa beginning in 1503. The half-length portrait of a woman is thought to be that of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo -- hence, the name La Gioconda in Italy.

The painting was acquired by King Francis I of France and is the property of the French Republic, on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The Mona Lisa's ambiguous expression and the painting's composition, unique for the time, has led the painting to become a focus of the fascination of many.

"Once we identify the remains, we can reconstruct the face, with a margin of error of 2 to 8 percent," Silvano Vinceti told CNN. "By doing this, we will finally be able to answer the question the art historians can't: Who was the model for Leonardo?"

One thing that cannot be verified by bone structure is the famous "Mona Lisa" smile, because a smile's form is not dependent on the shape of bones in the face. But Vinceti does not think it matters: he believes the smile is not Gherardini's in the first place, even though the painting may be her portrait.

He told CNN he believes the smile was added later and was that of da Vinci's assistant, Gian Giacomo Caprotti.

The DNA analysis is not expected to be completed for months.

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