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Portrait Of A Lady (1)

Posted by D. M. F. on December 11, 2007

mona-lisa.jpgIn the late 19th century, the Baedeker guide called it ‘the most celebrated work of Leonardo in the Louvre’; still, artists copied the Mona Lisa only half as many times as certain works by Murillo, da Correggio, Veronese, Titian, Greuze and Prud’hon. Not until the 20th century would it assume the ranking it has since enjoyed as the most famous painting in the world. But fame often breeds controversy, and in the case of the Mona Lisa, fame would bring almost every feature of this masterwork—from its name to the manner of its creation—under the speculative gaze of professionals and amateurs alike. Today what seems to be the only sure thing about the Mona Lisa is its authorship by Leonardo. In this essay are some popular traditions about Leonardo’s lady and the alternative theories and beliefs—many no less debatable—that may in time replace them.

Myth: Mona Lisa has always been the name of da Vinci’s painting.

This titled lady was no dame. Leonardo’s famous painting is popularly called the Mona Lisa, andleonardo.jpg rightly so, as this was the nickname of the lady who, we are told, sat for it. In professional circles, it is formally known by its descriptive title ‘Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo’.

However, neither title seems to have been used at the beginning of Leonardo’s project. The picture was commissioned as the Madonna Lisa, after the full first name of Mona Lisa. Later, probably on Francesco’s initiative, it became the matronly La Gioconda, or La Joconda, which was first mentioned in 1525 in a heritage list of the painter Salai, Leonardo’s student and heir. It is believed Mona Lisa didn’t catch on until the finishing stages, or even later, after the painting had already left Leonardo’s hands.

Myth: The real Mona Lisa was a Florentine woman named Lisa Giocondo.

She was no lady, she was his wife. From the custom of nomenclatures at the time, La Gioconda suggested that the subject was married to a man named Giocondo. It would be written in subsequent centuries that Mona Lisa was born in Naples c. 1480 and married in her early twenties. She became the third wife of a Florentine nobleman or merchant known as Francesco di Bartolommeo del Giocondo.

Francesco allegedly commissioned the painting for himself or for his wife. But according to Pallanti, since Leonardo’s father was a close friend of del Giocondo, it was equally likely that “(the) portrait of Mona Lisa, done when (she) was aged about 24, was…commissioned by Leonardo’s father himself for his friends as he is known to have done on at least one other occasion.” This would be one explanation why Leonardo never turned over the finished work to Francesco but kept it with him almost until the day he died.

Bruno Mottin of the French Museums’ Center for Research and Restoration offers scientific evidence that the transparent gauze veil worn by the smiling lady is a guarnello, typically used by women while pregnant or just after giving birth. In the light of other evidence obtained in 2004 suggesting that the painting dated from around 1503 and commemorated the birth of the Giocondos’ second son, there seems to be more than circumstantial proof that Leonardo’s model was indeed Francesco’s wife. Recent research from Italy purports to show that Lisa Gherardini was a prolific mother of five children, including two daughters who became nuns. However, this finding has been dampened somewhat by the unconfirmed report that Francesco was old and impotent and would not have allowed Lisa to pose for a portrait while carrying a child that was not by him.

There are other indications controverting the belief that Mona Lisa was the lady Giacondo. For instance, during the last years of his life, Leonardo spoke of a portrait ‘of a certain Florentine lady done from life at the request of the magnificent Giuliano de Medici’. Art experts say this portrait was possibly that of Constanza d’Avalos, duchess of Francavilla, a patroness of Leonardo and mistress of Giuliano de Medici. D’Avalos, coincidentally, was also nicknamed ‘La Gioconda’. There is no real evidence, of course, that this portrait was the Mona Lisa, and the assumption must be that the master was talking about one of the two other portraits he did of women in his time.

At least ten other prominent women of the 16th century, not to mention various courtesans and prostitutes, have been linked to the Mona Lisa, including Isabella d’Este, Isabela Gualandi, Cecilia Gallerani and Pacifica Brandano. Maike Vogt-Lüerssen believes the woman behind the famous smile is Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan. She bases her deduction on Leonardo’s 11 years as the court painter for the Duke of Milan, and on the pattern on Mona Lisa’s dark green dress indicating that she was a member of the house of Sforza. Maike sees the Mona Lisa as the first official portrait of the new Duchess of Milan, and places the painting in 1489 rather than 1503.

Myth: The Mona Lisa is a self-portrait of Leonardo.

john-the-baptist.jpgCherchez l’homme! Some art historians have even gone beyond the gender barrier in their pursuit of the real Mona Lisa. Thus, it has been suggested that Leonardo’s mysterious poser was the same male model he used for St. John the Baptist, which shows an uncanny resemblance to La Gioconda. Another suggestion is based on an anonymous statement linking the Mona Lisa to an image of Francesco del Giocondo himself—perhaps the origin of the controversial idea that the Mona Lisa is the portrait of a man.

The most surprising revelation yet is that the Mona Lisa might have been a self-portrait of the artist. Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs posits this theory based on the results of a digital analysis of the facial features of Leonardo’s face and that of the famous painting. When merging the mirror image of a Leonardo self-portrait with an image of the Mona Lisa using a computer, the features of the faces align perfectly. Cynics throw water on the theory, however, saying the congruence of the two images can be explained by other reasons, viz., (1) both portraits were painted bymorph.jpg the same person using the same style; (2) the drawing on which the comparison is based may not really be a self-portrait; (3) as Sigmund Freud surmised, the Mona Lisa depicts the artist’s mother Caterina, accounting for the resemblance between artist and subject, and further explaining why Leonardo kept the portrait with him wherever he traveled until his death; and (4) the resemblance is purely accidental. As Wikipedia puts it, being ‘an artist with a great interest in the human form, Leonardo would have spent a great deal of time studying and drawing the human face, and the face most often accessible to him was his own, making it likely that he would have the most experience with drawing his own features. The similarity in the features of the people depicted in the Mona Lisa and St. John the Baptist may have resulted from Leonardo’s familiarity with his own facial features, causing him to draw other faces in a similar light’.

• To be continued…
• All non-textual materials are from Google Images.


9 Responses to “Portrait Of A Lady (1)”

  1. Shawty said

    I think that The mona lisa looks like the saint john the baptist painting Da vinci did.
    I also think that mona lisa looks like old fala Marcel Duhmchan who recreated the masterpiece with a musthe and a beard but if you compair his portrait with Da vincis it looks exact but when u put his photo againgst the original it looks nothing alike.
    Anathor thing is in his painting of the last super there apears to be a lady behind jesus but it is said in the bible that only his 12 deciples were there and he didnt have a lady deciple. When u count the deciples there 12 so theres no room for a exra person. so yeah i dont know what that means by the way im 12 years old.

  2. Excellent post. Hope to read much more excellent posts in the future.

  3. Ter/char said

    A possible explanation for the frequent facial similarities in Leonardo’s portraits is that he always sort artistic perfection and in doing so arrived at the perfect mathematical proportions for the ideal human figure – including in the facial features – thus any portrait by his hand that’s come down to us would be expected to display a similar mathematically arrived at distribution of facial features approaching the perfect facial symmetry. Whether his school -the artists influenced by him- also picked up and replicated this aspect of his work is any ones’ guess.

  4. Buck said

    I think old Leo was tapping that and she had his love child.

  5. Arthur said

    Detto per inciso …
    “Monna Lisa = Isabella d’Aragona”: Maike Vogt-Lüerssen ha presentato una vecchia tesi che risale nel 1979 – la tesi del scrittore Robert Payne.
    Recentemente, sul sito ‘’ (08.06.2012) appare il communicato di Maike Vogt-Lüerssen che ha ritirato il suo libro WER IST MONA LISA? AUF DER SUCHE NACH IHRER IDENTITÄT [CHI E MONNA LISA? ALLA RICERCA DELLA SUA IDENTITA] dal mercato siccome questo libro contiene troppi errori.

    • Huberta said

      Le idee di Maike Vogt-Lüerssen sono pure fantasie.
      … E la sua prova principale, una cosidetta “eccezionale somiglianza tra Isabella d’Aragona e la Gioconda [Monna Lisa]” …: rappresenta un errore, una illusione! Il suddetto dipinto “Isabella d’Aragona” di Raffaello ritrae Isabella de Requensens (1500-1577) – in nessun caso Isabella d’Aragona!
      Una nota marginale: Il dopo “Monna Lisa”, alcuni ritratti femminili sono stati dipinti, che mostrano una grande somiglianza con la stessa “Monna Lisa”!

  6. Arthur said

    Di fatto la studiosa australiana Maike Vogt-Lüerssen presenta una teoria altrui – la teoria del defunto scrittore Robert Payne (R. Payne, ‘Leonardo’, Londra 1979). La studiosa racconta tutti i ineffabili prodotti della fantasia di Robert Payne.
    Ciononostante la signora Vogt-Lüerssen aggiunge qualcosa alla teoria di Robert Payne: una cosidetta identificazione dei simboli sul vestito della Gioconda / Monna Lisa … Tuttavia per quanto concerne questa cosa, rimando alle analisi penetrante e scoperte sensazionali della ricercatrice tedesca Magdalena Soest; i resultati della sua ricerca sono stati pubblicati da molti anni. Magdalena Soest era la prima a scoprire certi simboli nella Monna Lisa: gli emblemi dei Medici e degli Sforza (sc. ‘anelli’, ‘fleur de lys’, ‘biscione visconteo’) – vale a dire, i simboli per identificare Caterina Sforza, la vedova di Giovanni de’ Medici, come Monna Lisa!
    Posso solo riferirle i fatti.

    • Frederick said

      Jahrmarkt der Eitelkeiten
      Die Suche nach Mona Lisas wahrem Namen gleitet ins ganz Billige ab. Was wurde uns in letzter Zeit nicht alles als des Rätsels Lösung angeboten, zugemutet: gefälschte Belege, manipulierte Quellen, aufgebauschte Nichtigkeiten, buchstäblich zusammengesponnene Beweise, frei erfundenes Zeug … Zuweilen übernimmt ein ‘Forscher’ auch eine fremde Theorie und läßt dabei den wahren Urheber weitgehend unerwähnt, im Dunkeln. So erlitten die Theorien Carlo Pedrettis (“Pacifica Brandani”) und Magdalena Soests (“Caterina Sforza”) plagiatorische Übergriffe; selbst Robert Paynes Konstrukt (“Isabella von Aragon”), eher so ein bisschen Yellow Press und Schmonzette als ein ernstzunehmender Identifizierungsversuch, blieb nicht verschont.
      Das Begehren, mit der ewig Schönen und Rätselhaften in einen Zusammenhang gestellt zu werden, ist wohl übermächtig. Da fallen dann alle Schranken der Vernunft und des Anstands.

  7. David Blum said

    “Mona Lisa was Isabella of Aragon”: ROBERT PAYNE (+ 1983) proposed that very theory decades before Maike Vogt-Lüerssen did so. Without doubt, the theory is Payne’s.
    But in the argumentation and in the statements of or about Maike Vogt-Lüerssen I’ve read so far, I couldn’t find any reference to the true author, to Robert Payne. It is causing me a great deal of concern. I should like to ask Mrs. Vogt-Lüerssen if she can give me her assurance that my concern is unfounded.
    (It is but a general remark that I’d like to end with: Whoever plagiarizes, steals the intellectual property of somebody else.)

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