Can DNA and a skull solve the riddle of the lady with the mystic smile? Scientists in Florence, Italy, have cut into the stone floor of the Santissima Annunziata Basilica to open up the family crypt of a silk merchant who used to live across the way from Leonardo da Vinci.
Historians say it is likely Lisa Gherardini, the wife of businessman Francesco del Giocondo, sat for the artist and inspired the iconic work. Italians refer to the portrait as ‘Gioconda,’ the married name of Gherardini.
Silvano Vinceti, who heads Italy’s National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage, doesn’t expect to find Gherardini’s bones in the crypt, he expects her son to be buried there. Once DNA is extracted from her relative, it can be matched with a skull from an old convent where Gherardini, a widow, ended her days as a nun. With her skull in hand, scientists want to make a virtual reconstruction of her face — sort of like CSI or Cold Case — and compare it with Leonardo’s portrait.
If the facial reconstruction bears the likeness of the “Mona Lisa,” the skull could answer the key question: Why the half smile? Bad teeth?