A Bone to Pick with Leonardo’s Smiling Lady


In April of last year, Italian princess Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi called it “a sacrilegious act.”

Strozzi, who continues a centuries-old noble bloodline in Florence, was complaining about a team of Italian archeologists announcing bold plans: to seek and exhume the skeleton of her ancestor, Lisa Gherardini, the Florentine silk merchant’s wife who many art historians consider the model for Leonardo daVinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.

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“My ancestor’s remains should be left to rest in peace,” Strozzi told the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “What difference would finding her remains make to the allure of Leonardo’s painting? The attempt to find her bones seems to me an inappropriate and sacrilegious act.”

Her lament, however, didn’t deter the dedicated dig. L’abbiamo trovato! This week the world press announced apparent success.

“The human remains were exhumed from a crypt that lay beneath the altar at the Convent of St. Orsola in Florence, Italy for nearly 500 years,” The Examiner explained.

“Documents suggest that Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family, could have been buried there in 1542,” People magazine apprised. “The bones will undergo several tests, including radiocarbon dating and DNA comparisons to the known bones of Gherardini’s children, according to lead researcher Silvano Vinceti.” A cryptic family affair.

All this scientific assault is required because the skull evidently didn’t retain that “mystic smile” the balladeers allude to. And since Mona Lisa was created by Leonardo rather than Shakespeare, the archeologists weren’t able to rise from the grave with such quips as “Alas, poor Lisa, I knew her well, Silvano.” Or the ultimate pun-ishment: “Tibia or not tibia.”

For those wanting some on-the-scene activity, Russian television’s RT produced a story with candid shots. They, of course, filed the drone about bones under “breaking news.”

And the New Zealand Herald revealed that the researchers will meld art and science for an attempt at a final determination: “Once they have verified the skeleton and skull belong to the model forensic artists will attempt to reconstruct her face to see how it compares to the 500-year-old version painted by da Vinci – and perhaps solve the riddle of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile in the process.”

Leonardo began painting the Mona Lisa, also called La Gioconda, in 1503. He is believed to have taken it to France, and completed it just before he died in 1519. “The sitter’s identity was ascertained at the University of Heidelberg in 2005 by a library expert who discovered a 1503 margin note written by Agostino Vespucci,” according to The New World Encyclopedia. France owns the painting, which hangs in the Louvre.