| Mona Lisa
Rome, Aug. 1: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the world’s most enduring symbol of feminine mystique, is actually a portrait of the virtuous wife of a family friend, who had five children, including two daughters who became nuns.
After four centuries in which historians have debated the identity of the artist’s subject — with theories ranging from his mother to a Florentine prostitute — new research has supported the claim first made in 1550: that she was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant.
Giuseppe Pallanti, a teacher from Florence who has spent 25 years researching the city’s archives, has discovered the first clear evidence that da Vinci’s family was closely connected to the silk trader, Ser Francesco del Giocondo, who married Lisa in 1495.
Pallanti has also established that Giorgio Vasari, the Italian biographer of Renaissance artists who, in 1550, named the silk merchant’s wife as the subject of the portrait, was a credible source, having known the Giocondo family personally.
For centuries, the Mona Lisa portrait has also been known by the alternative name, La Gioconda, in acknowledgement of the Vasari claim. However, the enigmatic nature of the work and the inscrutable smile of its subject have spawned many alternative theories — encouraged by the fact that, unlike most other portraits of the time, the panel is unsigned, undated and bears nothing to indicate the sitter’s name.
Among those who have been suggested as possible subjects are Isabella d’Este, Isabella Gualanda and Cecilia Gallerani, Italian society figures of their time and various courtesans and prostitutes.
The artist’s mother has also been identified as the sitter. Yet another theory — based on the discovery that da Vinci’s own facial features can be closely aligned with those of the Mona Lisa — has the painting as a playful self-portrait of the artist, now widely believed to have been homosexual, in female form.
Now, after delving deeply into Florence’s state archives, Pallanti has discovered that Leonardo’s father — a local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci — knew Ser Francesco del Giocondo for many years.
Ser Piero, it transpires, drew up a number of deeds for Ser Francesco and his brother, including one in 1497 to settle a dispute with friars in Florence over the terms of a loan.
“All the indications are that Leonardo’s father and Mona Lisa’s husband knew each other before she was painted, and socialised together,” said Pallanti. “The two lived almost round the corner from each other.
“The portrait of Mona Lisa, done when Lisa Gherardini was aged about 24, was probably commissioned by Leonardo’s father himself for his friends, as he is known to have done on at least one other occasion.
“This would have been Ser Piero’s way of giving a helping hand to his son, who was hopelessly vague when it came to money matters.”
Pallanti also found the registration of the wedding on March 5, 1495, between Lisa, then 16, and Ser Francesco, who was 14 years her senior. His first wife, Camilla Rucellai, had died the previous year.
The teacher found Ser Francesco’s will, which came into force on his death in 1538. In it, he described Lisa as his “beloved” and “ingenuous wife” — meaning loyal, honest and noble of spirit.
Pallanti also uncovered records of the births of four of the couple’s five children: Piero, born in 1496, Camilla — apparently named out of respect for Ser Francesco’s first wife — in 1499, Andrea in 1502, and Giocondo in 1507.
Camilla and her younger sister later took religious vows and spent the remainder of their lives in convents.
Pallanti said he had found no record of Lisa’s death, which could have occurred any time between 1540 — when the local registry of deaths was in chaos, with many blank pages — and 1570, after which diligent recording was resumed.
But he did find a deed which Lisa made in 1539 — the year after her husband died — in which she transferred ownership of a farm in Chianti, which had been her dowry, to her youngest daughter, the nun Sister Ludovica. Pallanti said this transfer had probably been done in exchange for the nun agreeing to look after her mother, who would then have been 60.
Pallanti has been praised by other scholars for helping to solve the Mona Lisa mystery. He presented his findings in a short book just published.
Riccardo Nencini, the president of the council of Tuscany’s regional government, which hosted the book’s presentation, said: “It may not prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Lisa Gherardini and the Mona Lisa were one and the same. But with the evidence it offers, it comes pretty close.”
The Daily Telegraph