Experts have believed for some time that the enigmatic model with the mysterious smile in Leonardo’s masterpiece, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant. Carbon-14 dating revealed on Thursday that the bones date from around the time that Gherardini died, in 1542, when she was 63.
“There are converging elements, above and beyond the results of the carbon-14 tests, that say we may well have found Lisa’s grave”, Vinceti told reporters at an announcement of the results.
It was also anticipated that the researchers would find Gherardini’s skull in the convent remains, which would have enabled scientists to create a facial reconstruction, which, even in the absence of more authoritative DNA testing, could have shown a likeness to the figure in the world’s most celebrated painting.
Still, Mr Vinceti insisted that “the odds that the bones belong to her are very high”.
Historical records suggest that Gherardini, who spent her last years in the Sant’ Orsola convent in Florence, was laid to rest at the site.
The researchers began exhuming skeletons in 2011 in the hope of finding her remains, unearthing a dozen in the process, according to Giorgio Gruppioni, anthropology professor at the University of Bologna.
But the children’s remains, discovered in a tomb in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata in Florence, have been badly damaged over the years by the flooding of the Arno River.
That complicated the task of determining the sex and age at death as well as DNA analysis, he said. Tradition has long linked the woman to the Mona Lisa painting, which is known in Italian as La Gioconda.
Only wealthy women such as Gherardini, who were not nuns, were given special burials in the convent.
No one knows for sure who the identity of the model was, some believing Da Vinci used multiple female models, others saying he used a male model, and a few believing the Mona Lisa is a kind of self-portrait. But a note written by an Italian government clerk named Agostino Vespucci in 1503 identifies Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting.
And there’s still questions over whether Gherardini is in fact the Mona Lisa.