Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mona Lisa's Identity Confirmed by Document
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News e-mail share bookmark print

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Jan. 16, 2008 -- The mystery over the identity of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting has been solved once and for all, German academics at Heidelberg University announced on Tuesday.

Mona Lisa is "undoubtedly" Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, according to Veit Probst, director of the Heidelberg University Library.

Conclusive evidence came from notes written in October 1503 in the margin of a book.

Discovered two years ago in the library's collection by manuscript expert Armin Schlechter, the notes were made by Florentine city official Agostino Vespucci, an acquaintance of Leonardo da Vinci, in an edition of letters by the Roman orator, Cicero.

In his annotations, Vespucci wrote that Leonardo was working on three paintings at the time, including a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.

"All doubts about the identity of the 'Mona Lisa' have been eliminated," the university said in a statement.

Vespucci's notes also "establish more precisely the year the painting was done," the university said.

Until now, the only other source to have identified the sitter in Leonardo's masterpiece as Lisa Gherardini, was the 16th century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari.

In his work "Lives of the Artists," Vasari named Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo as the subject of the portrait and concluded that the portrait was painted between 1503 and 1506.

But doubts about Vasari's attribution have always abounded since he was known to rely on anecdotal evidence.

The work is unsigned, undated and bears nothing to indicate the sitter's name. Attempts to solve the mystery surrounding her famous smile as well as her identity have included theories that she was the artist's mother, a noblewoman, a courtesan, even a prostitute.
There have also been theories that the sitter was happily pregnant, or affected by various diseases ranging from facial paralysis to the compulsive gnashing of teeth.

"The German finding confirms that Vasari is indeed a reliable source," Giuseppe Pallanti, the author of two books on the "Mona Lisa," told Discovery News.

Pallanti was the first historian to identify the sitter in Leonardo's portrait as Lisa Gherardini, following 25 years of research.

"Indeed, I found documents showing that Leonardo's father -- a local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci -- and Lisa's family were neighbors, living about 10 feet away from each other in Via Ghibellina," Pallanti said. "Leonardo met a pregnant Lisa in 1500 in Florence. In December 1502 she gave birth again."

According to Pallanti’s research, Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins, was born on June 15, 1479, in a rather ugly house in Via Sguazza in Florence.

In 1495, when she was 16 years old, she married the merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Ser Francesco was 14 years her senior and had lost his first wife, Camilla Rucellai, the previous year.

The girl moved to Del Giocondo's house, located in today's San Lorenzo market quarter. Though the house was big and beautiful, the surroundings were less than ideal. Prostitutes populated the area, which was a sort of Renaissance red light district.

In that house, Lisa gave birth to five children: Piero, Andrea, Giocondo, Camilla and Marietta.

Pallanti was also able to reconstruct Lisa's last years. She died four years after her husband's death on July 15, 1542, at age 63, and was buried in the convent Saint Orsola.


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