A self-styled Italian art history sleuth says he has taken an important step toward identifying the remains of the woman thought to be the model for the Mona Lisa.
Silvano Vinceti and his researchers entered the martyrs’ crypt in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata basilica, 300 years after it was last opened, in pursuit of a two-and-a-half-year mission to identify the remains of Lisa Gherardini.
Last year, the team recovered eight skeletons from the Sant’Orsola convent in Florence, thought to be the resting place of Gherardini, who was the wife of a Renaissance-era merchant and is traditionally considered the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait.
Three of those skeletons are now undergoing carbon dating tests at the University of Bologna to establish if they date from the 1500s, when Leonardo is thought to have worked on his most celebrated painting. However, even if they find a time-period match, it will hardly signify definitive proof — which is why Vinceti considers the opening of the martyrs’ crypt to be fundamental. It contains the family tomb of her husband, Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo, which in turn contains the remains, among others, of her son.
If further testing reveals a DNA link between the remains in the martyrs’ crypt and one of the skeletons discovered at the convent of Sant’Orsola, Vinceti says the project could then move into its “most exciting” phase — the reconstruction of the woman’s face.
Begun in April 2011, the quest for Gherardini is far from Vinceti’s first foray into the lost mysteries of Italy’s artistic greats. In the country’s art history circles, his name is almost as well known — infamous, even — as that of La Gioconda herself.
On Friday, art historian Tomaso Montanari criticized the Mona Lisa project, saying there was no certainty that Gherardini had been the original model because “hundreds, if not thousands” of women had been buried in the Sant’Orsola convent. Writing on the Web site of Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian newspaper, Montanari added that the man at the helm of the project was “not a researcher.”
In 2010, when Vinceti declared that he had discovered Caravaggio’s bones in a crypt in Tuscany, Montanari accused him and his company of a “depressing” bid to attract tourists around the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death.
Defending his methods, Vinceti said : “I don’t know Tomaso Montanari personally, but I would say this: It would be good if, instead of giving out sentences in the manner of Robespierre or Danton, he were to read all the documentation, follow all the research ... and only at the end of it make up his mind.”