“That’s a portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, one of our ancestors from 15 generations ago,” Natalia said. “But, of course, everyone knows her as ‘Mona Lisa.'”Lisa Gherardini was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a silk merchant and a friend of da Vinci’s.”Francesco must have asked Leonardo to paint his wife, probably to celebrate the birth of one of their children,” Natalia said. “It was nothing out of the ordinary.”Not everyone agrees. The portrait has been the focus of centuries of speculation and conspiracy theories as to the subject’s true identity.Some insist it’s the portrait of an ideal woman, while others claim it is da Vinci’s self-portrait. Many, however, agree with Natalia and Irina that, if the “Mona Lisa” was based on a real woman, it is their ancestor.
“I can tell you with complete certainty that the sitter in Leonardo’s famous portrait is in fact Lisa del Giocondo,” said art historian Rab Hatfield, who spent years researching the “Mona Lisa.”He added, “They can be certain that this in fact is their ancestor.”The sisters now spend their time running the winery that has been in their family since the 13th century. But their connection to the “Mona Lisa” remains a point of pride.”We have the same blood running in our veins,” Irina said.The Caravaggio conundrumDuring the Renaissance, many artists were named after the towns they came from.Just as Leonardo was from the Tuscan hamlet of Vinci (“da” mean “from” in Italian), Michelangelo Merisi called himself Caravaggio, after the small town in northern Italy where he grew up.
He is as famous for his use of light and shadow to create intense, realistic images as he is for his rebellious, violent character. The young artist is said to have killed a man during a brawl in Rome and then died under mysterious circumstances on a beach in Tuscany.However, unlike many of his fellow contemporary artists, both his town and his surname survived.”Many of us are called Merisio in this town. Even Caravaggio must have been called Merisio, as the ‘o’ was later dropped in the translation from Latin,” explained Alberto Merisio, 77, a retired engineer and an amateur painter.”So almost all of us thought, at some point, that we must have been descendants of the great painter. Deep down I always hoped I was related to him.”Alberto’s dream came true in 2010, when a group of experts from three universities collected DNA samples from people who shared his surname and who lived in the town.
Given the mysterious nature of the artist’s death, the first thing researchers had to do was positively identify Caravaggio’s remains.”To solve this enigma, we analyzed the bones unearthed in the cemetery where he was believed to have been buried. Only one matched his profile: It belonged to a 40-year-old man from the time of his death, and had a high concentration of lead, typical of painters,” said Silvano Vinceti, who led the group of researchers,They then compared Caravaggio’s DNA with that of the local residents.”Many tested positive, including Alberto,” Vinceti said. “So not only did we know we had Caravaggio’s remains, but we also found that several people there are related to him.”Another person who tested positive was Pepi Merisio, 88, a photojournalist who spent decades documenting Italian life for major magazines.Of the many pictures Pepi took, one is of Feniglia beach in Tuscany where Caravaggio is believed to have died.
It shows a strip of sand with overgrown brushwood and trunks of wood washed ashore by the sea — a lonely place to die.”Some critics say that I take photos like Caravaggio painted,” Pepi said. “The comparison is not that disproportionate. We both understood that lighting is what makes the difference.”
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