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Italians Search for da Vinci's Mona Lisa Model

Art historian and researcher Silvano Vinceti gesturing as an image of Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting is projected in background, during a press conference, in Rome, February 2, 2011

The Mona Lisa with her enigmatic smile hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris but to this day the woman who was used as the model for Leonardo da Vinci's portrait remains a mystery. Now, a group of Italian experts is trying to establish whether she was an Italian noblewoman who may be buried in a Florence convent.

A group of Italian researchers have begun their hunt for the remains of the woman whom they believe may have modeled for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. They hope they will finally be able to unravel a mystery that has baffled art historians for over five centuries.

Armed with a special radar device they began their search last week in the dilapidated convent of Saint Orsola in Florence where they think the body of the 16th century noblewoman was buried.

Some Italian historians are convinced the true Mona Lisa was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo, who is believed to have commissioned da Vinci to create the portrait.

But this has never been proven and there are many other theories, including that it was a female self-portrait of the artist himself.

Scientists are now scanning the floor in the Florence convent to pinpoint areas where they plan to start digging for Gherardini's remains on May 9.

Silvano Vinceti heads the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage. He is responsible for the research being carried out.

Vinceti says he thinks that what his team is doing is the right answer to a painting and a figure that has attracted everyone beyond religion, faith and geographical location. And he adds that it's right that Italian researchers are committed with passion to provide these answers.

Professor Francesco Mallegni is a paleoanthropologist also involved in the project.

Mallegni says that in order to be sure that the remains belong to Lisa Gherardini, the DNA must be found in her bones. Once her DNA is found, he adds, it can be compared the DNA of her children who are buried at the Santissima Annunziata convent.

With modern technology, researchers say they can recreate the face of the woman if they can find her skull and compare its likeliness with the painting.

There is no question it will be a long process, but all the researchers involved in the project agree that the mystery to be solved is worth the effort however long it takes. The Mona Lisa has captivated art enthusiasts and others across the world for centuries.