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Da Vinci Gravediggers? Looking For Mona Lisa's Remains

Researchers want to analyze the DNA – and skull -- of the Renaissance woman who most believe sat for Leonardo, to finally verify the true identity of the legendary subject.

(uhuru)
(uhuru)
Maurizio Assalto

FLORENCE - Grave hunters, centuries-old mysteries, and historical records spread out across Europe. Da Vinci's ghosts are there too. This is not a Dan Brown novel, though. In Florence, Italian researchers have undertaken the hunt for the remains of Mona Lisa, the woman who was the model for Leonardo da Vinci's "La Gioconda," the most famous and most analyzed picture of all time. This week, members of Italy's respected National Historical and Cultural Preservation Committee have launched an official project to find the famous lady's grave.

There are many bizarre theories about Mona Lisa's real identity. Some believe she was Isabella d'Este, the Marchesa of Mantua, who had begged the master for a portrait. Others have suggested Isabella Gualanda, who was a favorite of Giuliano de" Medici, co-ruler of Florence with his brother Lorenzo the Magnificent. And then there are those who think she was Leonardo's mother, or even Leonardo himself. According to this theory, he portrayed himself as a woman as a hidden reference to his own homosexuality.

But others think that there is no mystery at all. Historian Giuseppe Pallanti wrote in his well-documented book "Mona Lisa Revealed – The True Identity of Leonardo's Model," that all these guesses are useless. In the mid-16th century, Giorgio Vasari may have provided the solution to the mystery in his encyclopedia of artistic biographies entitled "Lives."

"Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa. He struggled for four years, and then he left it unfinished," Vasari wrote. The artist is believed to have worked on the painting from 1503 to 1506.

According to Vasari, La Gioconda was the noblewoman Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, who was the heir of one of most important families in Florence. Francesco's family worked in silk wholesale in Italy and France, and had a close relation with Leonardo's father, the notary Sir Piero.

Vasari knew Francesco del Giocondo's home quite well, which should leave little doubt about identification. Researchers have also found a note written in the German town of Heidelberg by Agostino Vespucci, who was an assistant to Niccolò Machiavelli. Vespucci wrote that Leonardo was as talented "as the Greek painter, Apelles," in portraying the Florentine.

According to some accounts, Lisa Gherardini was born in 1479. In 1538, after her husband's death, she entered a convent where she died a few years later. "On July 15 1542, she died and was buried in Sant" Orsola," reads the parish registry. The hunt for her grave will therefore start from this ancient convent.

The crypt, the cloister and the church will be explored. When (and if) her remains are found, they will be carbon-dated and the DNA examined. The researchers hope to hit the jackpot: finding her skull. It would allow them to reconstruct her facial features – as had happened with the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. A three-dimensional model could be compared to Leonardo's portrait in the Louvre.

There is, however, another disturbing possibility. Last October, the English journalist Chris Johnson, editor of Mercury Press Agency Ltd, wrote an article quoting Pallanti who said that Sant'Orsola tombs were excavated in the 80s to build an underground car garage. All the rubbish and debris were taken to a landfill site. Could the last resting place of the Mona Lisa be a local garbage dump?

Read the original article in Italian

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Donetsk People's Republic holds referendum on joining Russia

Irene Caselli, Cameron Manley, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

Russia's proxies in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions announced that referendums on joining Russia had begun that Ukrainian and Western officials have denounced as shams.

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For four days, "voting" will be held at people's homes "for security reasons," Russian state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti wrote. On the last day of the "referendums," on September 27, locals will be asked to go to "polling stations."

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