London: Italian researchers are planning to open up a family tomb in Florence for the first time in 300 years as part of their effort to identify the bones of a woman who is believed to be the model for Leonardo da Vinci`s Mona Lisa portrait.
DNA testing of bones inside the tomb, in the Martyrs` Crypt behind the main altar of Florence`s Basilica della Santissima Annuziata, could confirm that researchers have found the remains of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, a merchant`s wife who lived across the street from Leonardo.
The current consensus among art experts is that Lisa Gherardini inspired Leonardo`s 16th-century painting of the woman with the enigmatic smile, which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
Last year, excavators unearthed several skeletons in the basement of a former Ursuline convent in Florence, where Lisa Gherardini is said to have been buried. But they are not yet certain which one of the skeletons, if any, is associated with the presumed Mona Lisa model.
"Right now we are carrying out carbon-14 tests on three of the eight skeletons found in St. Ursula, which could be the age Lisa Gherardini was when she died," Silvano Vinceti, who heads Italy`s national committee for cultural heritage said.
"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," Vinceti told Ansa news agency.
That DNA analysis is only half of the job, however.
Vinceti and his colleagues also need to confirm the family connection by checking DNA from the remains of Gherardini`s two sons. That`s why the team plans to take samples from the Gherardini family tomb in the basilica ? where the sons and the father, Florentine cloth merchant Francesco Del Giocondo, are buried.
The working scenario for the genesis of the Mona Lisa is that Francesco commissioned the portrait to celebrate Lisa`s pregnancy, or the birth of their second child in 1502, or the purchase of a house in 1503.
After Francesco`s death, Lisa became a nun. She died in 1542 at the age of 63, and was said to be buried near the convent`s altar. Such burials were common in those days, which is why the researchers want to make sure they have the right bones, NBCNews reported.
If the research team verifies a family connection to one of the skeletons from the convent, Vinceti plans to commission a virtual reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini`s face, based on the bone structure, and compare it to Leonardo`s version.
Scientists have proposed a number of hypotheses for Mona Lisa`s smile ? ranging from bad teeth to congenital palsy. It`s conceivable that forensic tests on the remains could shed new light on the science behind the smile.