Golfers play Golf Ugolino in Florence, and sip Chianti at the historical residence of Vignamaggio, where Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was painted.
Thursday 26 September 2013 - By Kyl Chatwaal
He’s variously identified himself as the “Lone Ranger,” the
“Sherlock Holmes” of the art world.
He’s shocked us—thanks to his keen PR instincts, and sense of
how to manipulate a sensation-hungry media—with his claims
of having solved the “great mysteries of Italy’s past,” usually accomplished by disinterring famous
Italians and subjecting their remains to CSI-like forensic tests.
Silvano Vinceti, Italy’s self-styled modern art sleuth, made headlines a few years back
when he announced he’d discovered the bones of the 16th & 17th century painter
Caravaggio. (Caravaggio was notoriously wild-at-heart, died under mysterious
circumstances, and the cause of his death and final resting place have been mysteries for
Prior to this, Vinceti had exhumed Petrarch, discovering, oddly enough, that the great
writer’s tomb actually contained the bones of a young girl.
Most recently, the inexorable Silvano Vinceti, whose mission is to “regenerate [the
public’s] interest in history, through solving its mysteries,” has set his sights on the
mystery of who the model for Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa really was.
Not that it's much of a mystery anymore. Most scholars today agree that Lisa del
Giocondo (née Gherardini—see previous blog post) was the living face behind the
Vinceti hopes to test this theory by…. (surprise, surprise)… exhuming the body of Lisa
del Giocondo. Documents were discovered a few years back suggesting that Lisa spent
her later years in the San’Orsolo convent in Florence, and this is where Vinceti is
Wasting no time, he began digging up the convent crypt in 2011, and has already
exhumed the skeletons of at least five 16th-century nuns. Not a single one has turned out
to be Lisa, but this has not slowed Silvano Vinceti down.
How will he identify Lisa if and when he locates her? To find an authentic DNA match,
he has drilled into the old Del Giocondo crypt, known to contain the remains of Lisa’s
children, and removed (“stolen” perhaps the better word) pieces of bone.
His justification for all this mucking around in old graves is that once he identifies Lisa’s
skeleton he will reconstruct her face, compare it with the painting, and—miracle of
miracles—know once and for all if the Mona Lisa is truly Lisa del Giocondo.
Sound plausible? Suspicious? Not surprisingly, Vinceti has his share of critics. Facial
reconstruction is hardly fool-proof, many argue, while others point out that even if a
genuine reconstruction of Lisa del Giocondo’s face can be made, its likeness (or lack
thereof) to the Mona Lisa proves nothing, since Da Vinci repainted the famous "portrait"
many times over a period of nearly fifteen years.
Many are also finding Vinceti’s eagerness to exhume famous peoples’ bodies—simply to
satisfy some fetishistic curiosity—a little ghoulish. After all, the nuns of San’Orsolo were
buried according to Christian custom and their final wishes, which certainly did not
include being dug up after 400 years and subjected to modern lab tests.
Saturated as we are in forensic crime dramas these days, the notion of treating a person's
remains like a science experiment—and for no proper historical reason—probably does
not alarm us as much as it should.
Confusing celebrity obsession with the study of history is another troubling modern
tendency. As Alistair Smart of the The Telegraph aptly put it: “Not content to follow
famous people’s every movement in life, we now even claim rights over them in death.”
Below is CNN’s most recent report on the excavation. Regrettably, it side-steps the
important moral questions raised by Vinceti’s so-called historical sleuthing.