9/19/2008

Portrait of the week - Mona Lisa

Painting done by Leonardo da Vinci, also known as La Gioconda - with the formal name of Portrait of Lisa Gheradini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. It was painted about 1503-1506 - though it was never completed then nor handed over to the Giocondo-family and followed Leonardo to France when he went there. It is believed that he finished it some time before he died, in 1519. The painting was bought after Leonardo's death by the French king and has always remained in French hands since then. It is currently exhibited at the Louvre.

The most well-known name of the painting Mona Lisa actually refers to the formal title of the picture too. 'Mona' is short for the Italian Madonna, meaning Mt Lady (and though it often refers to the Virgin Mary, it doesn't always do so). So the title actually means 'My lady Lisa'.

The sitter's identity had long been a matter of debate, although the painting had it's title several different ladies were thought to be motif. But in 2005 the lady was formally identified as the Lisa in question.

This Florentine lady was born as Lisa di Antonio Maria Gheradini, born in 1479. Her family was aristocratic, but far from influential and by now lived on the income from farms they rented. Lisa went the way most women, who did not become nuns, did at this time - she married at a young age, she was 15 and married a much older merchant who had lost his first wife. She did not bring much of a dowry, another sign of how the once important Gherardini-family had fallen. Her husband, Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Gicondo, lived a rather comfortable middle-class life; he might not have had as noble blood as his wife (which means he probably gained some glory though not money by marrying her) but he could offer her a life that lacked nothing from what she was used to. It is even likely they had it more comfortable than she was used to from her childhood. Francesco's first wife had been the sister of Lisa's stepmother and now she raised her son together with the five children she herself had with Francesco - a not too uncommon scenario in a city where child-birth was a real hazard both for mother and child. The painting of Lisa was commissioned by Francesco after the birth of their second child in 1503.

The family had a rather typical life of the time (and place). Their two daughters were placed in convents and Francesco did a good official career - maybe because he had ties with the Medici-family. The city of Florence certainly believed that to be the case and he was fined and imprisoned when there was a fear of the Medici returning to the city. They did just that - and Francesco was released. They both caught the plague that came to Florence in 1538 and Francesco died of it. Lisa was taken to the convent of Sant'Orsola where she had one of her daughters as a nun. It is generally believed that she died there about four years later, which would make her about 63 years old.

No comments: