Lisa Gherardini died in Florence in 1542 and was buried in the grounds of Sant’Orsola convent.
Over the centuries the Franciscan convent was used as a tobacco factory and a university teaching facility but in the 1980s a redevelopment was launched to convert it into a barracks for Italy’s tax police, the Guardia di Finanza.
The developers had no knowledge that it was the final resting place of da Vinci’s famous model – that was only discovered in 2007 – and during work to build an underground car park, the convent’s foundations were excavated, along with the crumbling remains of graves and tombs.
The rubble was then dumped in a municipal landfill site on the outskirts of Florence.
Giuseppe Pallanti, an expert on da Vinci, who has spent 30 years studying the archives trying to establish Lisa Gherardini’s final resting place, is convinced her remains are interred in the dump, now a grassy mound nearly 100ft high.
“The tombs have all been lost,” he said. “Sadly, when the works were carried out in the 1980s no thought was given to the historical importance of the building and its artefacts.
“They just wanted to build new barracks for the Guardia di Finanza and the material they excavated was disposed of.”