Who Was Mona Lisa? Will We Ever Find Out?
For more than 500 years, Mona Lisa has fascinated the world with her unique smile and her mysterious identity. Now it looks like we may be closer to finding out who the subject of the world’s most famous painting was, and her relationship to its artist Leonardo Da Vinci.
Art historian Silvano Vicenti and his team are planning to dig up the remains of an Italian noblewoman named Lisa Gherardini, who is believed to have been the model for Mona Lisa. The noblewoman is believed to have been buried in a convent in Florence, and was the wife of a rich silk merchant who was a supporter of Da Vinci.
The Power Of DNA
Using scientific techniques, Vicenti hopes to extract DNA from her skull and use it to rebuild her face. However, Vicenti faces several challenges. It is not known for sure where Gherardini is buried in the convent and whether her remains are still there.
Vicenti’s team will use radar (a way to detect objects using radio waves) to search for tombs under the floor of the convent and then, if they find human remains, they will try to identify bones that match a woman of Gherardini’s age when she died. After that they will conduct DNA tests to determine if they match those of Gherardini’s children, who are also buried nearby.
Previously, Vicenti claims to have successfully reconstructed the faces of famous Italian Renaissance artist Caravaggio and poet Dante in the same way. Even if he succeeds this time, doubts may still be cast on whether Gherardini was indeed Da Vinci’s inspiration. That’s because different art experts have different theories on the real model for Mona Lisa -- from the artist himself, to his mother, and even his male apprentice.
The Most Famous Portrait
Mona Lisa is the most famous example of a Renaissance painting technique called “sfumato,” where the subject seems to be slightly out of focus. This makes the dark colors seem a little lighter and the brights a little duller, and gives an overall impression of calmness.
It is believed that Da Vinci carried this unfinished work wherever he went until its completion in 1519, shortly before his death. The painting currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. It is set behind a wall of bulletproof glass and watched over by armed guards. Why the fuss around this painting? According to art historians, the Romantic movement of the 19th century had a part to play. Romantic writers popularized the image of Mona Lisa as a 'femme fatale' -- a woman who held secrets behind her bemused smile.
However, it was the theft in 1911 from the Louvre, and the subsequent recovery in Florence two years later that made the painting really famous. Books and movies such as Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' have added to the mystique with references to secret messages hidden in the painting. To this day, there is some new revelation about the painting every year!
Looks like we may never truly solve the mystery of the Mona Lisa.