Lisa del Giocondo

Lisa del Giocondo

detail of the painting showing Lisa's face

Detail of Mona Lisa (1503–06) by Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre
Born Lisa Gherardini
15 June 1479
Via Maggio, Florence, Italy
Died 15 July 1542
(aged 63)
Convent of Saint Orsola, Florence, Italy
Known for Subject of Mona Lisa
Spouse(s) Francesco del Giocondo
Children Piero del Giocondo
Suor Beatrice (Camilla del Giocondo)
Andrea del Giocondo
Giocondo del Giocondo
Suor Ludovica (Marietta del Giocondo)
Also raised: Bartolomeo del Giocondo
Parent(s) Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini
Lucrezia del Caccia

Lisa del Giocondo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈliːza del dʒoˈkondo]; née Gherardini [ɡerarˈdiːni]; 15 June 1479 – 15 July 1542), also known as Lisa Gherardini, Lisa di Antonio Maria (or Antonmaria) Gherardini and Mona Lisa, was a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany in Italy. Her name was given to Mona Lisa, her portrait commissioned by her husband and painted by Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance.

Little is known about Lisa's life. Born in Florence and married in her teens to a cloth and silk merchant who later became a local official, she was a mother to five children and led what is thought to have been a comfortable and ordinary middle-class life. Lisa outlived her husband, who was considerably her senior.

Centuries after Lisa's death, Mona Lisa became the world's most famous painting[1] and took on a life separate from Lisa, the woman. Speculation by scholars and hobbyists made the work of art a globally recognized icon and an object of commercialization. In 2005, Lisa was definitively identified as the model for the Mona Lisa.[2]

Early life and family

Lisa's Florentine family was old and aristocratic but over time had lost its influence.[3] They were well off but not wealthy, and lived on farm income in a city that was among the largest in Europe and economically successful, while there were great disparities in wealth among its inhabitants.[4]

Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini, Lisa's father, had lost two wives, Lisa di Giovanni Filippo de' Carducci, whom he married in 1465, and Caterina di Mariotto Rucellai, whom he married in 1473. Both died in childbirth.[5] Lisa's mother was Lucrezia del Caccia, daughter of Piera Spinelli, and Gherardini's wife by his third marriage in 1476.[5] Gherardini at one time owned or rented six farms in Chianti that produced wheat, wine and olive oil and where livestock was raised.[6]

Lisa was born in Florence on 15 June 1479 on Via Maggio,[5] although for many years it was thought she was born on one of the family's rural properties, Villa Vignamaggio just outside Greve.[7] She is named for Lisa, a wife of her paternal grandfather.[8] The eldest of seven children, Lisa had three sisters, one of whom was named Ginevra, and three brothers, Giovangualberto, Francesco, and Noldo.[9]

The family lived in Florence, originally near Santa Trinita and later in rented space near Santo Spirito, most likely because they were not able to afford repairs to their former house when it was damaged. Lisa's family moved to what today is called Via dei Pepi and then near Santa Croce, where they lived near Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo's father.[10] They also owned a small country home in St. Donato in the village of Poggio about 32 kilometres (20 mi) south of the city.[11] Noldo, Gherardini's father and Lisa's grandfather, had bequeathed a farm in Chianti to the Santa Maria Nuova hospital. Gherardini secured a lease for another of the hospital's farms and, so that he could oversee the wheat harvest, the family spent summers there at the house named Ca' di Pesa.[6]

Marriage and later life

On 5 March 1495, Lisa married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a modestly successful cloth and silk merchant, becoming his third wife at age 15. Lisa's dowry was 170 florins and the San Silvestro farm near her family's country home, a sign that the Gherardini family was not wealthy at the time and reason to think she and her husband loved each other.[12] The property lies between Castellina and San Donato in Poggio, near two farms later owned by Michelangelo.[10] Neither poor nor among the most well-to-do in Florence, the couple lived a middle-class life. Lisa's marriage may have increased her social status because her husband's family may have been richer than her own.[12] Francesco is thought to have benefited because Gherardini is an "old name".[13] They lived in shared accommodation until 5 March 1503, when Francesco was able to buy a house next door to his family's old home in the Via della Stufa. Leonardo is thought to have begun painting Lisa's portrait the same year.[14][15]

Map of Florence with colored dots near the Ponte Vechhio
Central Florence. Francesco and Lisa lived on Via della Stufa (red), about 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) north of the Arno River. Lisa's parents lived closer to the river, at first north and later south (purple).

Lisa and Francesco had five children: Piero, Camilla, Andrea, Giocondo, and Marietta, four of them between 1496 and 1507.[16] Lisa lost a baby daughter in 1499.[11] Lisa also raised Bartolomeo, the son of Francesco and his second wife, Camilla di Mariotto Rucellai, who was about a year old when his mother died. Lisa's stepmother, Caterina di Mariotto Rucellai, and Francesco's first wife were sisters, members of the prominent Rucellai family.

Camilla and Marietta became Catholic nuns. Camilla took the name Suor Beatrice and entered the convent of San Domenico di Cafaggio, where she was entrusted to the care of Antonmaria's sister, Suor Albiera and Lisa's sisters, Suor Camilla (who was acquitted in a scandalous visitation by four men at the convent) and Suor Alessandra.[17] Beatrice died at age 18[17] and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.[18] Lisa developed a relationship with Sant'Orsola, a convent held in high regard in Florence, where she was able to place Marietta in 1521. Marietta took the name Suor Ludovica and became a respected member of the convent in a position of some responsibility.[19]

Francesco became an official in Florence. He was elected to the Dodici Buonomini in 1499 and to the Signoria in 1512, where he was confirmed as a Priori in 1524. He may have had ties to Medici family political or business interests. In 1512 when the government of Florence feared the return of the Medici from exile, Francesco was imprisoned and fined 1,000 florins. He was released in September when the Medici returned.[18][20]

In June 1537 in his will among many provisions, Francesco returned Lisa's dowry to her, gave her personal clothing and jewelry and provided for her future. Upon entrusting her care to their daughter Ludovica and, should she be incapable, his son Bartolomeo, Francesco wrote, "Given the affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife; in consideration of the fact that Lisa has always acted with a noble spirit and as a faithful wife; wishing that she shall have all she needs…".[21]

Death of Lisa del Giocondo

Lisa del Giocondo spent her final years at Florence's Saint Orsola convent where she died in July 1542 at the age of 63.[22]

Mona Lisa

The full Mona Lisa painting (English: Mona Lisa, Italian: La Gioconda, French: La Joconde) by Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre
Main article: Mona Lisa

Like other Florentines of their financial means, Francesco's family members were art lovers and patrons. His son Bartolomeo asked Antonio di Donnino Mazzieri to paint a fresco at the family's burial site in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata di Firenze. Andrea del Sarto painted a Madonna for another member of his family.[18] Francesco gave commissions to Leonardo for a portrait of his wife and to Domenico Puligo for a painting of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is thought to have commissioned Lisa's portrait to celebrate both Andrea's birth and the purchase of the family's home.[15]

Mona Lisa fulfilled 15th- and early 16th century requirements for portraying a woman of virtue. Lisa is portrayed as a faithful wife through gesture—her right hand rests over her left. Leonardo also presented Lisa as fashionable and successful, perhaps more well-off than she was. Her dark garments and black veil were Spanish-influenced high fashion; they are not a depiction of mourning for her first daughter, as some scholars have proposed. The portrait is strikingly large; its size is equal to that of commissions acquired by wealthier art patrons of the time. This extravagance has been explained as a sign of Francesco and Lisa's social aspiration.[23]

The space on the wall in the Louvre left by the thief
The theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 and its travels to Asia and North America during the 1960s and 1970s contributed to the painting's iconization and fame.[24]

Leonardo had no income during the spring of 1503, which may in part explain his interest in a private portrait.[20][25] But later that year, he most likely had to delay his work on Mona Lisa when he received payment for starting The Battle of Anghiari, which was a more valuable commission and one he was contracted to complete by February 1505.[26] In 1506 Leonardo considered the portrait unfinished.[27] He was not paid for the work and did not deliver it to his client.[28] The artist's paintings traveled with him throughout his life, and he may have completed Mona Lisa many years later in France,[13] in one estimation by 1516.[29]

The painting's title dates to 1550. An acquaintance of at least some of Francesco's family,[11] Giorgio Vasari wrote, "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife"[27] (Italian: Prese Lionardo a fare per Francesco del Giocondo il ritratto di mona Lisa sua moglie.).[30] The portrait's Italian name La Gioconda is the feminine form of her married name. In French it is known by the variant La Joconde. Though derived from Lisa's married name they have the added significance that the name derives from the word for "happy" (in English, "jocund") or "the happy one".[13]

Speculation assigned Lisa's name to at least four different paintings and her identity to at least ten different people.[31][32] By the end of the 20th century, the painting was a global icon that had been used in more than 300 other paintings and in 2,000 advertisements, appearing at an average of one new advertisement each week.[33]

Vespucci's notation on an old manuscript
Agostino Vespucci's margin note

In 2005, an expert at the University Library of Heidelberg discovered a margin note in the library's collection that established with certainty the traditional view that the sitter was Lisa. The note, written by Agostino Vespucci in 1503, states that Leonardo was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.[2] The Mona Lisa has been in custody of France since the 16th century, when it was acquired by King Francis I; after the French Revolution, however, it came into the possession of the people.[34] Today about six million people visit the painting each year at the Louvre in Paris, where it is part of a French national collection.[35]


  1. Riding, Alan (April 6, 2005). "In Louvre, New Room With View of 'Mona Lisa'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  2. 1 2 "Mona Lisa – Heidelberger Fund klärt Identität (English: Mona Lisa – Heidelberger find clarifies identity)". University Library Heidelberg. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  3. Pallanti 2006, p. 58
  4. Pallanti 2006, pp. 17, 23, 24
  5. 1 2 3 Pallanti 2006, p. 37
  6. 1 2 Pallanti 2006, pp. 41–44
  7. "History of Vignamaggio". Villa Vignamaggio. Archived from the original on May 12, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  8. Pallanti 2006, p. 40
  9. Pallanti 2006, p. 44
  10. 1 2 Pallanti 2006, pp. 45–46
  11. 1 2 3 Zöllner 1993, p. 4
  12. 1 2 Zöllner 1993, p. 5
  13. 1 2 3 Kemp, Martin (2006). Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature And Man. Oxford University Press via Google Books limited preview. pp. 261–262. ISBN 0-19-280725-0. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  14. "Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo". Musée du Louvre. Retrieved 2007-10-04.
  15. 1 2 Zöllner 1993, p. 9
  16. Johnston, Bruce (January 1, 2004). "Riddle of Mona Lisa is finally solved: she was the mother of five". Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  17. 1 2 Pallanti 2006, pp. 61-62
  18. 1 2 3 Müntz 1898, p. 154
  19. Pallanti 2006, p. 63
  20. 1 2 Masters, Roger D. (June 15, 1998). Fortune is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli's Magnificant Dream of Changing the Course of Florentine History (online notes for Chapter 6). Free Press via Dartmouth College ( ISBN 0-684-84452-4.
  21. Pallanti 2006, p. 105
  22. Squires, Nick (24 September 2015). "Who was Mona Lisa? Burial breakthrough may solve identity mystery behind Da Vinci masterpiece". The Daily Telegraph.
  23. Zöllner 1993, p. 12
  24. Sassoon 2001, p. 14–16
  25. Zöllner 1993, p. 7
  26. Müntz 1898, p. 136
  27. 1 2 Clark, Kenneth, quoting a translation of Vasari (March 1973). "Mona Lisa". The Burlington Magazine. The Burlington Magazine Publications via JSTOR. 115 (840): 144–151. ISSN 0007-6287. JSTOR 877242.
  28. Zöllner 1993, p. 6
  29. "Mona Lisa 1503-16". University of the Arts, London. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
  30. Vasari, Giorgio (1879) [1550, rev. ed. 1568]. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori. IV. Gaetano Milanesi. Firenze: G.C. Sansoni. p. 39. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  31. Stites, Raymond S. (January 1936). "Mona Lisa--Monna Bella". Parnassus. College Art Association via JSTOR. 8 (1): 7–10+22–23. doi:10.2307/771197. JSTOR 771197. and Littlefield, Walter (1914). The Two "Mona Lisas". The Century: A Popular Quarterly by Making of America Project via Google Books scan from University of Michigan copy. p. 525. Retrieved 2007-10-09. and Wilson, Colin (2000). The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved. Carroll & Graf via Google Books limited preview. pp. 364–366. ISBN 0-7867-0793-3.
  32. Debelle, Penelope (2004-06-25). "Behind that secret smile". The Age. The Age Company. Retrieved 2007-10-06. and Johnston, Bruce (2004-01-08). "Riddle of Mona Lisa is finally solved: she was the mother of five". Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2007-10-06., and Nicholl, Charles (review of Mona Lisa: The History of the World's Most Famous Painting by Donald Sassoon) (2002-03-28). "The myth of the Mona Lisa". Guardian Unlimited. London Review of Books via Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 2007-10-06. and Chaundy, Bob (2006-09-29). "Faces of the Week". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  33. Sassoon 2001, Abstract and p. 16
  34. Sassoon 2001, p. 8
  35. Chaundy, Bob (2006-09-29). "Faces of the Week". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 2007-10-05. and Canetti, Claudine (n.d.). "The world's most famous painting has the Louvre all aflutter". Actualité en France via French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs ( Retrieved 2007-10-08.


Further reading

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