Have Mona Lisa’s bones been found in a Florence church? While the find sounds promising, unfortunately archaeologists say they have no way of knowing for certain – at least for now.
As The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, archaeologists carrying out an excavation at the Saint Ursula Convent in Florence, Italy, came upon some bones that might be those of Mona Lisa – er, the model who many think posed for the famous painting. How they got to that conclusion, however, leaves plenty of room for doubt about the owner of the bones, and if they’re connected to the famous painting.
Art historians aren’t sure who Mona Lisa – the wryly-smiling female who appears in Leonardo’s famous painting – even is. Some think Da Vinci used a feminine-looking male model for the painting; others say Leonardo himself painted the Mona Lisa as a sort of bizarre self-portrait.
The prevailing wisdom, however, is that the actual model for the Mona Lisa was none other than Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. This theory is backed up by 16th century art biographer Giorgio Vassari, who wrote that Giocondo commissioned Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife; to this day, Italians refer to the Mona Lisa as “La Giocanda” (Giocondo’s Wife).
Gherardini is known to have spent her remaining days at St. Ursula’s convent – two of her children were nuns – where she died and was buried, in 1542, according to Yahoo News.
Since 2011, archaeologists have been excavating bones from the now-derelict convent – records indicate that the bones of laypeople as wells as nuns were buried beneath the convent between 1521 and 1545, the period of time when Gherardini is believed to have died. Now, researchers have found a femur that they are confident belonged to Gherdini, says lead researcher Silvano Vinceti.
“[It was] a coming together of elements, from anthropological examinations to historical documents, which allow us to conclude that the remains probably belong to Lisa Gherardini. Now if you ask me, ‘is it her, are you sure?’ I’d say ‘no’, because we need to be thorough.”
In fact, even if the purported Mona Lisa bones were well-preserved and useful for DNA testing – they are not – historians don’t have any DNA from anyone in Gherardini’s family against which to make a comparison. And even then, conclusively proving that the bones belonged to Gherardini doesn’t prove they belonged to the Mona Lisa model, since art historians can’t say for certain who it was.
Unfortunately, the mystery of Mona Lisa’s bones isn’t likely to ever be solved.