Hunting for the Bones of 'Mona Lisa'

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The hunt for Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," has brought archaeologists to a basement of a Tuscan convent, where they hope to find a human skull that matches Mona Lisa's face. "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," Silvano Vicenti, the head of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage and the man leading the dig, said in a report by The Independent which adds that the reason the team is are skeleton hunting in a Tuscan basement is that researchers think Gherardini spent the last years of her life at the convent.

What's important to remember is that "sophisticated technology," as Vicenti puts it, in this case isn't to be confused with scientific technology like DNA testing or whatnot, but rather matching up Gherardini's bone structure with the painting. "With this reconstruction of the face there is a margin of error between 4 and 8 percent so we will know whether Leonardo used Gherardini or we will be able to draw other conclusions," Vicenti said. And Vicenti's reliance on facial reconstruction technology—the technology has been criticized as controversial because some deem it as subjective—has earned him some flack with some experts.

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"Vinceti's quest to dig up the 'real' Mona Lisa is not grounded in scientific research methodology,"  biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove said on her blog back in July. Similar criticisms were heard last week when a team from Switzerland announced that they had "proven" that da Vinci painted a younger version of the "Mona Lisa." And on a subjective level there's even research, as The Guardian's Jonathan Jones points out, that when da Vinci first painted the "Mona Lisa" that Gherardini wasn't smiling, ergo the smile was a figment of da Vinci's imagination, ergo that skeleton might not really be that related to the painting if da Vinci wasn't painting Gherardini exactly as she appeared. "This kind of sensationalist story just feeds the attitude that causes some people to stand in front of the Mona Lisa taking cameraphone pictures instead of looking at her," Jones wrote today.

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