Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is being picked apart scientifically to learn more about the woman’s most elusive feature: her one-of-a-kind smile.
Italian researcher Silvano Vinceti led a team to exhume the remains of Lisa Gherardini, the second wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, who Vinceti believes posed for the portrait more than 500 years ago, and the contents of her grave are now getting the full CSI-like forensic treatment.
While Vinceti says he has no doubt that the woman depicted is Gherardini, he has concluded that the inscrutable smile of art’s most famous woman is not hers.
“When Leonardo began painting the model in front of him, he did not draw that metaphysical, ironic, poignant, elusive smile, but rather he painted a person who was dark and depressed," Vinceti told CNN.
So whose smile is that, if it’s not Gherardini’s?
Vinceti says the smile belongs to da Vinci's longtime assistant — and rumored lover — Gian Giacomo Caprotti. Her smile was added later to Gherardini’s face. Caprotti’s distinct features also appear in other works by the famed artist.
Researchers are still trying to fully unearth the identity of the woman who posed for the photo and determine whether Vinceti’s theory holds weight.
Gherardini’s remains, including fragments of her skull, were recovered in Florence, Italy.
After piecing together the skull fragments, researchers will be able to reconstruct Gherardini's face, factoring in that she was probably in her early 20s when she posed for da Vinci, according to CNN.
"Once we identify the remains, we can reconstruct the face, with a margin of error of 2 to 8 percent,” Vinceti said. “By doing this, we will finally be able to answer the question the art historians can't: Who was the model for Leonardo?"
But don’t expect researchers to pin down the mysterious smile just yet. DNA tests will take several months to conduct before the face can be reconstructed.
Regardless of the results, though, Vinceti says there are secrets about the painting that can never be uncovered.
"This is the magic of a great genius who eludes classification, around whom remains a fog of mystery,” he said. “I am under no illusion that we will be able to solve the mystery of the 'Mona Lisa.'”
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