The Grave of Mona Lisa: Discovered?

A team of archaeologists searching the Convent of St. Ursula in Florence for the remains of Lisa del Giocondo believe they have them. Lisa, the model for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, became a nun after the death of her husband, and lived in the convent until her death in 1542. The bones were found under the floor of the convent.

The female skull, along with various bone fragments, will be subjected to DNA testing and facial reconstruction. The claim seems a bit premature given the evidence (how many other nuns were buried in the same area?), so we’ll have to wait and see.

When I first posted on this story, there was some question of the propriety of disturbing a grave to satisfy our own curiosity. I think this is misplaced. Exhumation of remains is not at all uncommon, and indeed ancient cultures tended to keep remains near at hand. Some were buried in the floors of home, partly as one aspect of ancestor worship. Others were allowed to decay, and then the bones were moved to ossuaries after a year. This was common in the culture of ancient Israel, and persists in eastern cultures. Indeed, you don’t need to look very far to see the exposure of human remains in Catholic culture. Exhumation and display of remains is part of the process of declaring saints.

So this squeamishness about “disturbing graves” is rather a modern attitude, and rooted more in European superstition and prudishness than ancient Judeo-Christian culture and practice.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    It’s not squeamishness over moving graves, as long as there’s a practical reason for it (e.g. making room for the newly-dead in an area where there isn’t a lot of gravespace). It’s the satisfying our curiousity aspect of it that’s particularly ghoulish. Case in point: why are Lisa del Giocondo’s remains (or her presumed remains) the only ones being exhumed for facial reconstruction, and not any of the other nuns’?