The Mona Lisa, could it be a disguised Leonardo da Vinci?

Leonardo da VinciA group of scientists from Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage, a leading association of scientists and art historians, is seeking permission to open the tomb in which Leonardo da Vinci is believed to lie at Amboise castle, in the Loire valley, in a bid to reconstruct his face and discover whether his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is a disguised self-portrait. Leonardo died at the age of 67 in 1519.

The team wants to exhume the remains of the great painter with a view to throwing new light on his most famous work.

Anthropologist Giorgio Gruppioni said: "If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo's face and compare it with the Mona Lisa".

The true identity of the Mona Lisa has been a mystery for decades, with speculation ranging from Leonardo's mother to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant.

Silvano Vincenti who heads the Italian team, said: "There aren't any clues in the history books, but we'll be able to find out if Leonardo died of a disease such as syphilis or tuberculosis, because that shows up in the bones." Syphilis was seen as a form of plague at the time: some 20million people died of it in the first quarter of the 16th century."