announces Italy’s news service ANSA.
Giuseppe Pallanti, a researcher on the Tuscan countries from XV to XVIII centuries who’s written a book called ‘La vera identità della Gioconda’ Un mistero svelato’ (Mona Lisa Revealed. The True Identity of Leonardo’s Model)
In Pallanti’s book, based, according to the blurb “on a meticulous and in-depth review of archival materials”, he attributed a name to the face of the Mona Lisa: Lisa Gherardini, who was married to Francesco del Giocondo. This had already been done 450 years earlier when Giorgio Vasari wrote,
Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife…
Which is why we call the painting the Mona Lisa. In Italian, ma donna means my lady. This became madonna, and its contraction mona. Mona was used as a polite form of address, similar to Ma’am or my lady in English. But is this the painting Vasari was writing about? As Wikipedia states,
Over the years there have been several alternative views. Some scholars have argued that Lisa del Giocondo was the subject of a different portrait, identifying at least four other paintings as the Mona Lisa referred to by Vasari.
Giuseppe Pallanti, however, wanted to find Lisa Gherardini and in 2007 said he had traced the burial place of del Giocondo’s wife to the former Convent of St Ursula, in the heart of Florence.
Radar scans have been used to locate the crypt under one of the ex-convent’s two churches and the search will begin in earnest on 27 April 2011. The aim is to obtain DNA from the remains and compare it with that of two of her children buried in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata church.
Although the convent is in the heart of Florence it has fallen in to ruin, due in part to its history. In 1810 it was turned into a tobacco factory, in the 1940s it sheltered WWII refugees, later it was used by the town’s university before falling into disuse. Its windows were bricked-up in 1985 after a plan to develop it as offices for Italy’s Guardia di Finanza were abandoned. This, however, is fortunate for Pallanti who says,
I’ve pored over thousands of archive pages and I’m convinced the remains of Lisa Gherardini were buried there.
Pallanti is sure that Vasari was talking about the Louvre painting, the sitter of which the Italians call La Gioconda because of her husband’s surname.
Several years ago during research on farms in Chianti, I was struck by the name of a particular owner, Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini, the father of the Monna Lisa [Monna is the modern Italian spelling] and so I began searching through the historical archives of Florence for any information I could find on the Gherardini and del Giocondo families.
I spent a long time in [the] archives to be able to reconstruct the life of Lisa as a wife and mother, her husband’s business dealings, the events that led to their marriage after the early death of Francesco’s first wife, and the births of their many children. Among the most important documents was, first, Francesco’s will, which reveals his love for Monna Lisa, his beloved wife, and second, the notarial deeds signed between the del Giocondo family and the father of Leonardo da Vinci, who was an established notary in late-fifteenth-century Florence.
It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco del Giocondo – and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina.
According to the Pallanti, Lisa del Giocondo became a nun after her husband’s death and died in the convent on 15 July 1542, aged 63. It has been suggested that del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint his Mona Lisa to mark his wife’s pregnancy or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502.
The other theories?
Although pregnancy or childbirth have been put forward as explanations for Mona Lisa’s famous smile there are many other theories:
- The painting is a self-portrait of the artist, or one of his male lovers, in disguise. This is backed up by the fact that Da Vinci never actually relinquished the painting and kept it with him up until his death in Amboise in 1519.
- One group of medical researchers has maintained that the sitter’s mouth is firmly shut because she was undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis which turns teeth black.
- An American dentist has claimed that the tight-lipped expression is typical of people who have lost their front teeth.
- A Danish doctor was convinced she suffered from congenital palsy which affected the left side of her face and this is why her hands are overly large.
- A French surgeon said that she was semi-paralysed and that this explained why one hand looks relaxed and the other tense.
- American feminist Camille Paglia suggested that the cool smile showed that “what Mona Lisa is ultimately saying is that males are unnecessary”.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.