Besides picking out Philip Treacy hats to wear to certain royal weddings, what do princesses really have on their plates these days? Well, in Italy, Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi -- princess, actress, winemaker, and former ballerina -- is leading the charge in opposition to plans to exhume the remains of Lisa Gherardini, Strozzi's forebear and the Renaissance Florentine woman whom many believe to be the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." (The woman is better known as Lisa del Giocondo, thanks to her early marriage to a merchant of that surname.)
According to the Telegraph, the princess -- whose blood ties to La Gioconda, as Leonardo's painting is universally known in France, go back some 15 generations -- is standing up against the team of Italian researchers led by Silvano Vinceti who are using a "ground-penetrating radar" to search beneath the Convent of St. Ursula in Florence for the suspected model's coffin. The research team believes that if they can locate the remains, they can compare DNA samples with data extracted from the bones of other deceased family members, and then use skull fragments to reconstruct the visage of the woman, who died in 1542 at the age of 63. Excavation at the convent will begin early next month, followed by two weeks of digging.
"My ancestor's remains should be left to rest in peace," Strozzi told the Telegraph. "What difference would finding her remains make to the allure of Leonardo's painting? The attempt to find her bones seems to me an inappropriate and sacrilegious act." In an article in the Daily Mail, Lisa del Giocondo's royal descendant added, "We know that when she died she was actually exhumed and reburied later at St. Orsola, so why dig her remains up again? Why do these people insist on wanting to find her bones?"
Vinceti, who is heading up the dig -- and who no doubt cultivated his sense of historical drama in his former job as a television producer -- has disinterred his fair share of art mysteries in the past, having dug up the remains of Caravaggio and Dante, and having claimed to have discovered secret codes in the Mona Lisa's eyes (including, humorously enough, the letters "BS" on the subject's left pupil).
Of course, the princess's interest in keeping the remains of her ancestor underground may be motivated by sensibilities other than that of propriety. While the Daily Mail reports that Strozzi's parents are close pals with Prince Charles and Tony Blair, and that others of her prominent predecessors (for centuries rivals of the Medici dynasty) took drawing lessons from Michelangelo and boasted Machiavelli as a personal secretary, one can only imagine that having Mona Lisa as a great-great-great-et-cetera grandparent is quite the feather in the familial cap.
And with theories circulating that the subject of Leonardo's most famous portrait might be a man, none other than Gian Giacomo Caprotti, or "Salai," the painter's apprentice and rumored lover, perhaps the princess is alarmed that she might lose her claims to prime art-historical lineage.
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