Scientists in the Italian city of Florence have opened a tomb to extract DNA they hope will identify the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The tomb contains the family of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a silk merchant, who is believed to have sat for the artist.
It is hoped DNA will help to identify her from three skeletons found last year in a nearby convent.
Experts have for centuries puzzled over the woman featured in the Mona Lisa.
To find the DNA they needed, scientists cut a round hole in the stone church floor above the family crypt of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The tomb lies behind the altar of the Santissima Annunziata Basilica.
Writer and researcher Silvano Vinceti plans to compare DNA from the bones with that of three women buried at the nearby convent of Saint Ursula. Lisa Gherardini died there as a nun in 1542
It is hoped that some of the bones will belong to at least one of her blood relation, probably her son, Piero.
“When we find a match between mother and child – then we will have found the Mona Lisa,” Mr Vinceti said.
He added that once a DNA match is made, an image of Gherardini’s face can be generated from the skull and compared with the painting.
Leonardo da Vinci took about 15 years to complete what has become one of the most famous paintings of all time. After Leonardo’s death, it was acquired by the King of France.
The painting is now the biggest attraction in the Louvre museum in Paris