We are closer than ever to figuring out if the woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s super-duper-famous-beyond-belief painting, “Mona Lisa” (1503-1519), is actually Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, who art historians believe to be the person in the picture.

LiveScience has the story:

Researchers are currently searching for the bones of what might turn out to be Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo … [two weeks ago] they took a leap in the right direction: The team members announced they had discovered what may be steps leading down to a crypt [at the convent of St. Ursula in Florence] where the model is thought to be buried.

And some of the backstory:

Researchers, including historian Giuseppe Pallanti who published the book “Mona Lisa Revealed: The True Identity of Leonardo’s Model” (Skira, 2006), believe that Gherardini’s husband, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned their neighbor Leonardo Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife in 1502, around the time she was pregnant with their second child. Da Vinci took until 1519 to hand over the painting, carrying it around with him on his travels and not giving it up until his death, according to the theory.

So, now this is the challenge:

They need to continue excavating the area for possible bones. If they find enough skull bones, Francesco Mallegni, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Pisa, will attempt to reconstruct Gherardini’s face, providing extra clues to who was really the subject of the painting, according to ANSA English.

Yeah, yeah, it’s based on a woman. We still prefer Sigmund Freud’s theory that the painting is Leonardo’s projection of himself in drag — ok, we’re oversimplifying but that’s what we took away for that little book that reads very very dated nowadays. But then again, maybe we’ll discover some other potentially shocking secrets, like:

  1. Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo’s body will be discovered with a formation of crystals near her pelvis, thus suggesting she was the originator of vajazzling or maybe it was a Leonardo side business?
  2. Lisa Gherardini was a man and, well, we’d be unpacking that one for a while and, speaking of which, can an archaeological dig be optioned for a screenplay by Hollywood? If so, we call dibs.
  3. She’s not buried there but we find a beautiful set of clothes, and theories abound … perhaps it was Leonardo’s drag persona, she faked her death and got plastic surgery because she couldn’t deal with the fame …
  4. Lisa Gherardini doesn’t look anything like Leonardo’s portrait and the artist was simply too embarrassed to tell the model. Now THAT would be a moment of art history awkwardness.
  5. This whole thing is a very elaborate advertising campaign by the Louvre to get more people into the museum. #strangerthingshavehappened

We can’t wait.

Homepage image via the San Francisco Wax Museum, photo by Zahid.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.