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Mona Lisa: Researchers Hunt Da Vinci's Model
Researchers have opened ancient graves in a dilapidated Florence convent as they search for the remains of Leonardo da Vinci's model for Mona Lisa.
A team of experts has been working in the Saint Orsola convent since April. They believe the body of the woman who modelled for da Vinci back in the 16th century is buried there.
The real Mona Lisa, Italian art historians say, was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo, who is thought to have commissioned the portrait - although there is no proof of this.
The researchers say that if they can find her skull, they will be able to reconstruct her face and compare it with the painting.
"If everything goes as planned, we will find Gherardini and with her skull we will be able to reconstruct her face thanks to some sophisticated technology," said Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage.
"After that we will be able to compare the face to that of Mona Lisa and maybe for the first time will get an answer which will be based on highly sophisticated technology which does not make errors.
"With this reconstruction of the face there is a margin of error between four and eight per cent so we will know whether Leonardo used Gherardini or we will be able to draw other conclusions."
Researchers say Gherardini spent the last years of her life at the convent, looked after by her two daughters who were nuns, and was buried there.
They are hoping the project will reveal crucial information about the bodies buried in the convent.
"The first phase of the work consists of opening up the remains as much as possible. Then we need to collect information about the manner of burial," anthropologist Irene Baldi said.
"Whether the bodies were moved here from another place or buried in a container, if there was a coffin or not, or a cushion under the head, this is the information that we are searching for."
Gherardini might have been an early model for the Mona Lisa, but da Vinci was probably also inspired by the face of his young male apprentice, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, who some say was his lover.
It is not clear how long the project to study Gherardini's remains will take before coming to any conclusion.