GRAVE MATTER

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  Stefano_Vinceti

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

four centuries.)

 

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

painting.

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

presently looking.

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.

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