Do you know who was Mona Lisa in real life?
The world-famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci is named Mona Lisa, La Joconde, or La Gioconda. Between art historians, there has been much speculation and debate regarding the sitter’s identity in the famous painting, Mona Lisa.
The painting has always raised questions about who was Mona Lisa in real life or who was the painting based on?
It has been assumed that Mona Lisa was based on Lisa del Giocondo, Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, Catarina, and the Female Version of Leonardo Da Vinci himself.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Origins
The famous painting Mona Lisa took several years to paint by Leonardo da Vinci, the Florentine polymath, artist, scientist, theorist. He created the Renaissance’s most iconic works.
And one such work was the Mona Lisa.
So, let’s take a deep look at the Mona Lisa.
Which real person could the Mona Lisa be based off?
Lisa del Giocondo
Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, also known as La Gioconda is said to be the one who posed for the Mona Lisa.
Scholars and art historians have posed numerous possibilities, including that the painting is of Lisa del Giocondo (née Gherardini), the wife of a merchant Francesco del Giocondo; this led to an alternative title to the piece as La Gioconda. This identity of the self-portrait was suggested in 1550 by artist biographer Giorgio Vasari.
She was a member of the Gherardini family and an Italian noblewoman of Florence and Tuscany. A portrait of her’s was ordered by her husband and painted by Leonardo da Vinci during the 15-16th century Renaissance.
Not much about the life of Lisa Gherardini is known. What is known is th she was born in Florence and got married as a teenager to a silk merchant who then became a government official. She was a mother to five children and probably led a comfortable and ordinary middle-class life in the period.
The father of Lisa Gherardini, Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini, came from a family who had lived in Poggio on properties near San Donato and recently shifted to the city.
Lisa’s mother was the daughter of Piera Spinelli, Lucrezia del Caccia. Gherardini at one time owned or rented out six farms in Chianti that produced wheat, wine, and olive oil and where farm animals were raised.
Lisa Gherardini was born in Florence, Via Maggio, on June 15, 1479. She is named for Lisa, after one of the wives of her paternal grandfather. However, she thought for many years that she was born on Villa Vignamaggio just outside Greve, one of the family’s rural properties.
Centuries later, after her death, the painting Mona Lisa became world-renowned. However, only in 2005, Lisa was identified as the model for the painting.
Caterina – Leonardo da Vinci’s Mother
Another theory of the model being Leonardo’s mother, Caterina, was also possible. Sigmund Freud, with many others, put forth the theory that Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile emerged from an unconscious memory of Caterina’s smile.
The identity of the mother of Leonardo da Vinci has been surrounded by mystery. Professor Martin Kemp, a Professor of History of Art at Trinity College and Oxford University, identified her as a 15-year-old orphan, Caterina di Meo Lippi. She gave birth to Leonardo on April 15 1452.
Published by Oxford University Press on June 8 2017, the book “Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting” by Professor Martin Kemp and Dr Giuseppe Pallanti explained the woman’s background.
Many theories revolve around their identity, including her as a slave of Eastern descent who was given ‘Caterina’.
Caterina’s story began when she met San Piero and became pregnant that summer. However, it became clear that he would not marry her. However, San Piero’s parents did not hide the birth of their illegitimate grandson, which was also a common occurrence for wealthy Tuscan families of that time.
His grandfather had listed 5-year-old Leonardo da Vinci on his tax return as a family member in 1458. San Piero’s family likely extended help by providing a dowry for Caterina to marry a local farmer, Antonio di Piero Buti.
Forty years after her first son’s birth, Caterina came to stay with him in Milan, which was recorded in Leonardo’s notebooks.
He also recorded her funeral expenses which were also recorded in Milan’s funeral records, and it appears she died within a year of her arrival. Years later, Caterina’s husband seems to have travelled to Florence to take San Piero’s services as a notary, which forms another link between the two families.
As Megan Gannon and Freud, in Live Science for Megan Gannon, Freud gave his take on the idea, stating that the da Vinci must have thought of his mother while he painted the Mona Lisa’s iconic slight and mysterious smile.
Many theories and high-tech investigations have been conducted on the Mona Lisa’s identity due to the desire to find the circumstances behind this artistic creation.
However, for Caterina’s case, the authors used the old tax and funeral records to conclude Lisa del Giocondo and her husband. In the end, uncovering the ordinary lives of the people behind the Mona Lisa—Leonardo, Lisa, and their families—makes the painting more extraordinary.
Leonardo da Vinci himself
A third suggestion was that the painting was Leonardo’s self-portrait, seeing the resemblance between the sitter’s and the artist’s facial features. Some scholars suggested that the disguise of a woman was the riddle.
However, the sitter’s identity has not been proven. Numerous attempts in the 21st century to bring an end to the debate by seeking Lisa del Giocondo’s remains to test her DNA and recreate an image of her face were inconclusive.
When did he start the Mona Lisa?
Leonardo da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa around 1503, and it was still in his studio when he passed away in 1519. He worked on it for several years, continuously adding multiple layers of thin oil glazes at different times.
Small cracks in the paint, called craquelure, appear throughout the whole piece, but they are not seen as much on the hands, where the thinner glazes correspond to Leonardo’s late period.
French King Francis I, in whose court Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life, acquired the work of Mona Lisa after the artist’s death, becoming a part of the royal collection.
For centuries the portrait was kept secluded in French palaces until the rioters of the French Revolution claimed the royal collection as the property of the people.
It followed a period hanging in Napoleon’s bedroom, and the Mona Lisa was installed in the Louvre Museum at the turn of the 19th century.
The look of the Painting
The work is painted with oil colour on wood. The original painting size is 77 cm x 53 cm (30 inches x 20 7/8 inches).
It is a painting, not a canvas.
Leonardo’s famous masterpiece, Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, or the other name La Joconde has been painted on a poplar plank. Since he was used to painting bigger works on wet plaster, a wood plank does not seem different.
Since the fourteenth century, Canvas has been available to artists, but many Renaissance masters prefer wood as a base for their small artworks.
The figure of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of that era and seated in a visionary, mountainous landscape, shows Leonardo’s famous technique of soft, heavily shaded modelling.
The painting got its universal fame because of its alluring and aloof expressions.
The Mona Lisa is, also known as La Gioconda or La Joconde’s famous smile, is an iconic trademark of the sitter the same way that the Ginevra Benci is represented with juniper branches, and Cecilia Gallerani is represented by the ermine in their portraits in Washington and Krakow respectively.
The word ” Gioconda ” in Italian suggests this visual representation of happiness.
Leonardo made this happiness the central theme of the Mona Lisa, and this notion makes the work ideal. The nature of the landscape also has an important role.
The Mona Lisa was a picture that, as per the 15th and early 16th century requirements, portrayed the sitter as a woman of virtue. Leonardo also showed Mona Lisa as a flourishing and fashionable woman and probably more well-off than she was.
The dark clothing and black veil were high-fashion of that time and were influenced by Spain; but are not a sign of mourning for the first daughter, as has been proposed by some scholars.
The portrait is quite large, a size that is equal to commissions of wealthier art patrons of that time. The extravagance in the portrait is explained as a depiction of the social aspiration of Francesco and Lisa.
Impact of Mona Lisa as most famous painting in the world
In the Renaissance that had brought together all human activities, art meant science, and art meant truth to life. Leonardo da Vinci was a great figure because he not only embodied the epic endeavour of Italian art to conquer universal values, he also was the one who combined the fluctuating sensitivity of the artist and the wisdom of the scientist.
In the Mona Lisa, the individual is a miraculous creation of nature. At the same time, it represents the species: the portrait goes beyond social limitations and acquires a universal meaning.
Although Leonardo spent time on the Mona Lisa as a scholar and thinker, not only as a painter and poet but from the formal aspect – the new presentation, the noble attitude, the increased dignity of the model – had a strong influence over Florentine portraits for the next twenty years, on the classical portrait.
Leonardo created a new style with his Mona Lisa, which became more monumental and more lively, more concrete and yet more poetic than that of his predecessors.
Before him, portraits lacked mystery; artists only showed the outward appearances without a soul, or, if they showed the soul, they used gestures, symbolic objects, or inscriptions. The Mona Lisa is a living enigma: the soul there, but not accessible.
Where is the Original painting?
The Mona Lisa is owned by the Government of France and hangs on the wall in the Louvre in Paris, France.
After the Louvre launched a renovation that cost 6.3 million dollars that spanned over four years, in 2003, the painting now has its room.
A glass ceiling lets the natural light and a shatter-proof, bulletproof glass display case maintain a controlled temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit. It also has a little spotlight that brings out the true colours of da Vinci’s original paints.
Has the Work Ever Been Stolen?
In 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen, which caused an immediate news sensation. People flocked in throngs to the Louvre to see the new space where the painting had once hung. The museum’s director of paintings resigned from their post, and poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the artist Pablo Picasso were even arrested as suspects.
Two years later, an art dealer in Florence brought to the notice of local authorities that an Italian man had tried to sell him the painting, The Mona Lisa.
The police found the Mona Lisa painting stashed in the false bottom of a trunk that belonged to Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant who had briefly worked at the Louvre glass fitting for a selection of paintings, including the Mona Lisa.
He and possibly two other workers had hidden in a closet overnight, taken the portrait from the wall on the morning of August 21, 1911, and ran off without suspicion.
In late 1913, after two years passed, Alfredo Geri, a Florentine art dealer, received a letter from a man who said he had the Mona Lisa. Geri quickly got in contact with the police, who arrested Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter working at the Louvre during the theft.
Peruggia admitted that he took off the masterpiece that hung from the four hooks upon it, put it under his workman’s tunic, and walked out through the door of the Louvre. The Mona Lisa was safely tucked away in Peruggia’s apartment, a few blocks from the Louvre museum.
Peruggia said he stole the Mona Lisa because it should be in an Italian museum and not a French one. There were rumours that he took it so a forger could make copies of the original painting to sell in the black market.
Once Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, the French again turned up in flocks to see the painting, and so did people all over the globe.
The small, simple yet famous painting of the Mona Lisa once again was a news sensation. Peruggia was arrested, tried, and imprisoned, while the Mona Lisa took a tour of Italy before returning to France.
During the period of World War II, the painting was marked as the most-endangered artwork in the Louvre Museum, hence was moved to various locations in the countryside of France and finally returned to the museum in 1945, only after peace was declared.
The Mona Lisa, later on, travelled to the United States in 1963, at the request of Mrs Kennedy, drawing about 40,000 people per day during its six-week stay in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It also toured Tokyo and Moscow in 1974.
Condition of the Mona Lisa
Art scholars and art historians have noted that the Mona Lisa is reasonably good for its age. The popular panel shows some evidence of it warping from resistance to its original frame and the braces added by early restorers.
To prevent it from widening as a small crack that was visible near the center of the upper edge of the painting, dovetails were added to the back of the painting. Restorers later passed heavy canvas over the crack and replaced the top dovetail.
The glass protecting the Mona Lisa was replaced with a bulletproof case after several attacks in 1956, one of which had damaged an area near the subject’s left elbow.
The Mona Lisa thus also escaped harm from acts of vandalism in 1974 during the work’s visit to Tokyo and in 2009, where a ceramic mug was chucked at it.
From my point of view, it seems like Mona Lisa was created initially to honour Francesco del Giocondo’s wish of getting his wife, Lisa del Giocondo (Lisa Gherardini) portrait done.
But after Leonardo met his mother, he did not have enough time to make a painting of her. So he, unintentionally or intentionally in remembrance of her, painted a similar smile on Mona Lisa’s face.
What are your thoughts on the resemblance of the Mona Lisa?