- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FLORENCE, ITALY (AP) - Italian researchers on Wednesday began looking for the remains of a Renaissance woman many believed posed for the “Mona Lisa.”

The researchers used a geo-radar device to search for underground tombs in a Florence convent where Lisa Gherardini is believed to be buried.

Tradition has long linked Gherardini, the wife of a rich silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo, to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, which is known in Italian as “La Gioconda” and in French as “La Joconde.” Giorgio Vasari, a 16th-century artist and biographer of Leonardo, wrote that Leonardo painted a portrait of del Giocondo’s wife.

Gherardini is believed to have died in 1542 and have been buried in the Convent of St. Ursula in central Florence.

The researchers will use the geo-radar until Friday, covering an area of 900 square meters (1,000 square yards), said lead researcher Silvano Vinceti. The geo-radar allows the researchers to get an idea of what lies underneath before starting the excavations next month.

They hope to locate and identify bones compatible with Gherardini‘s, carbon-date them and ultimately extract DNA to compare it with that of Gherardini’s descendants.

Finally, if skull fragments are found, depending on how well-preserved they are, the group might attempt a facial reconstruction _ and see if the features match that of Leonardo’s masterpiece.

Vinceti believes the “Mona Lisa” is likely not the physical portrait of one single model, but the result of several influences. Still, Gherardini likely was an early model, Vinceti says, with a male apprentice and possible lover of Leonardo a subsequent source of influence.

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