Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leave Her Alone

Some Italian art historians and forensics specialists want to dig up the remains of the woman believed to be the model for the Mona Lisa. There's a story about it here.

The gist: they want to use ground-penetrating radar to search for the bones of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Renaissance silk merchant, who may have posed for Leonardo. Her death certificate resurfaced not long ago and says she was buried in a certain convent in Florence in 1542.

If they find any 530-year-old bones, they want to do DNA testing to prove it's her. Then they want to try to reconstruct her face from any skull fragments they find.

What is this really going to prove, besides the fact that even distinguished art historians are curious little kids at heart? Even if Signora Gherardini has all of her teeth intact in her skull, and a few fragments of mummified lips, no amount of forensic reconstruction — if you accept that whatever they end up with is a scientifically accurate likeness, which I'm not sure I do — is ever going to give us the secret behind that famous smile.

You're not going to find out why she was smiling that way, guys. And isn't that the more beguiling mystery? You might as well dig up Leonardo and pose a few questions.

Wouldn't it be kinder to just let her alone? Finding old bones, interred where they were said to be, is not exactly earth-shaking art historical research. Tests may prove that the bones belong to Signora Gherardini, but they will not prove that she is also Mona Lisa. However, as we know, that will be the excited assertion of whomever they select to work on the facial reconstruction — and how could those persons not be influenced by the painting (and the media hype), whether deliberately or subliminally?

For accuracy, the reconstruction should be done by someone who has never seen the painting or any reproduction of it. Good luck with that, I know....

How about putting those forensics skills toward solving crimes instead?

And, of course, the whole misguided adventure will be the subject of some hysterically hyped and melodramatic National Geographic or History Channel pseudo-documentary. Cringe.

Whether you think she is beautiful or not, Mona Lisa has always had class. Please let her keep it.

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