FLORENCE, Italy — Scientific testing of bone fragments from a Florence church grave could not determine whether they are from the body of a Renaissance-era woman some believe was the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” researchers said this week.
Perhaps as enigmatic as that Mona Lisa smile, the question of who might have been the model has intrigued art lovers for centuries.
Art historians differ on the model’s identity. Even if bone testing had determined that the remains were that of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of rich silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, it wouldn’t have answered the intriguing question of who posed for Leonardo.
Some say he used a male model; still others theorize the artist did a kind of self-portrait in disguise or used several models.
Researchers told reporters in Florence that carbon-14 testing of one of the fragments indicated the remains were compatible with the period. Gherardini died at age 63 in 1542, and the researchers said historical documents indicate she was buried in a Florence convent.
Head researcher Silvano Vinceti said, unfortunately, there are few remains, and no skull, which might have helped determine if the woman could have been Leonardo’s model for the portrait, which is in the Louvre in Paris.
“Our biggest problem has been the fact that the fragments were very fragmented, very deteriorated,” said Giorgio Gruppioni, head of the forensic anthropology laboratory at Bologna University. That complicated the task of determining the sex and age at death as well as DNA analysis, he said.
Because no remains have been found of Gherardini’s relatives, any DNA comparison testing was impossible, the researchers said.
Still, Vinceti insisted that “the odds that the bones belong to her are very high.”
A 16th-century artist and biographer of artists, Giorgio Vassari, wrote that Leonardo painted a portrait of del Giocondo’s wife. Tradition has long linked the woman to the “Mona Lisa” painting, which is known in Italian as “La Gioconda.”