Scientists hope to exhume the remains of Leonardo da Vinci so they can reconstruct his face to discover whether the Mona Lisa is a disguised self-portrait.
Scientists and historians from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage have sought permission to open the artist’s tomb at Amboise Castle in the Loire valley.
While the identity of the Mona Lisa has been debated for centuries, some scholars have suggested that da Vinci may have painted himself as a woman in the masterpiece due to his love of riddles.
Experts believe that if they find the Renaissance painter’s skull, they can recreate his face and compare it to the Mona Lisa.
The Italian research team said talks about the exhumation with French cultural officials and the owners of the chateau have resulted in an agreement in principle.
The project could receive formal permission this summer.
Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist from the committee, said. “If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo’s face and compare it with the Mona Lisa.”
Da Vinci was originally buried in a church that was destroyed in the French revolution of 1789 and his remains were then reburied in the castle’s smaller chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1874.
They lie beneath an inscription that describes them as “presumed” to be the master’s.
Silvano Vincenti, head of the Italian team, said the first step would be to ascertain if the remains are da Vinci’s. The team will use carbon dating and compare DNA samples from bones and teeth to those of male descendants in Bologna, Italy.
Speculation about the identity of the Mona Lisa has ranged from Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant, to da Vinci’s mother.
However, the exhumation plans have proved controversial among some da Vinci scholars, who believe his remains should not be disturbed.
Nicholas Turner, a former curator of drawings at the Getty Museum, said: “It sounds a bit fanciful, slightly mad, as if the Leonardo bug has taken hold too firmly in the minds of these people.
“If Leonardo heard about all this, he’d have a good chuckle.”