Everybody knows her smile, but no one knows her story: Meet the flesh-and-blood woman who became one of the most famous artistic subjects of all time—Mona Lisa.
A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Every year more than nine million visitors trek to view her portrait in the Louvre. Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, hardly anyone knows her story. “Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy...Mona Lisa is an entertaining” (Publishers Weekly) book of discovery about the world’s most recognized face. Who was she? Why did the most renowned painter of her time choose her as his model? What became of her? And why does her smile enchant us still?
Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua, became obsessed with finding the real Mona Lisa on repeated trips to Florence. In Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, she takes readers with her to meet Lisa’s descendants; uncover her family’s long and colorful history; and explore the neighborhoods where she lived as a girl, a wife, and a mother. In the process, we can participate in Lisa’s daily rituals; understand her personal relationships; and see, hear, smell, and taste “her” Florence. Hales brings to life a time poised between the medieval and the modern, a vibrant city bursting into fullest bloom, and a culture that redefined the possibilities of man—and of woman.
Mona Lisa is “a readable and affectionate my-search-for-story for art lovers and anyone interested in glorious and gory Florence in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, and in the divine Leonardo in particular…Hales’s assiduous research has made it possible for us to know Mona Lisa just a bit, enough to wonder if this otherwise ordinary Florentine housewife could ever have imagined her portrait enchanting millions for centuries” (USATODAY.com).
In this entertaining book, Hales (La Bella Lingua) attempts to reconstruct the obscure life of Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a prosperous Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who either commissioned the painting from Leonardo da Vinci or was approached by the artist to create the smoky portrait now ensconced in the Louvre. Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy, the book portrays Lisa Gherardini as a Renaissance Everywoman; Hales colors the blank spaces in her life with Renaissance cultural history, and considers the education she may have received, the etiquette she would have observed, what she would have eaten, what clothing she likely wore, the nature of her sex life, and much more. The result is an accessible, vivid examination of women's lives in Florence in the period. Occasionally, though, this coloring can lead to flights of fancy that are difficult to take seriously, such as the sensationalist notion that perhaps artist and sitter "forged such an intense connection that all else seemed to fall away in a moment suspended in time." As Hales whisks around Italy, interviews historians, inspects Ghirlandaio's frescoes in the church of Santa Maria Novella, rents a villa in the Tuscan countryside and an apartment in Florence, and lunches with a Florentine princess, American readers will envy the lifestyle and enjoy the ride.