At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Lisa del Giocondo – the Mona Lisa

Florentine wife and mother who became a global icon


Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci's Mona Lisa can be found
in the Louvre in Paris
Merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo, who has been identified as the model for the Mona Lisa, was born on this day in 1479 in Florence.

Her enigmatic beauty was immortalised by Leonardo da Vinci in the early part of the 16th century when he painted her portrait, a major work of art known as the Mona Lisa, which is now in the Louvre in Paris. 

The painting, sometimes known as La Gioconda, has become a global icon that has been used in other works of art, illustrations and advertising.

The face of the Mona Lisa belongs to a woman who was born as Lisa Gherardini into a well-off Tuscan family. When she was still in her teens she was married to Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a successful cloth and silk merchant who was much older than her. They had five children together. 

In 1503, when the couple were living in the Via della Stufa, it is thought Leonardo da Vinci started work on her portrait.

Francesco later became an official in Florence and is believed to have had connections with the Medici family.

In June 1537 he made provision for Lisa in his will, referring to the ‘affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife.’

Lisa del Giocondo spent her final years at Florence’s Sant’Orsola convent, where she died in 1543 at the ago of 63.

In the painting, Leonardo portrays Lisa as a faithful wife, who is dressed fashionably to demonstrate her financial status.

He did not complete the portrait at the time because he started work on something else. It is thought he may have finished the painting in 1516 when he was living in France and that it was later acquired by King Francis I of France.

The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and taken to Asia and North America. It is now back in the gallery as part of the French national art collection and is visited by an estimated six million people a year.

The word 'Mona' in the title of the painting is a contraction 'Ma donna', a form of address similar to Madam or Ma'am or 'my lady' in English.  In Italian it is often spelled Monna.


Photo of No 23 Via della Stufa in Florence
No 23 Via della Stufa, which is thought to have
 been Lisa del Giocondo's home in Florence
Travel tip:

The house at number 23 Via della Stufa, where Francesco and Lisa lived with their children in Florence, is probably where Leonardo began work on the famous portrait. The street is just north of the Arno River, a short walk from the Basilica di San Lorenzo. 

Travel tip:

Lisa del Giocondo was known to have been buried in the grounds of Sant’Orsola convent after her death in Florence in 1542. The convent, which was built in 1309 as a satellite of San Lorenzo, has since been used as a factory and also a teaching facility for the University of Florence. In the 1980s the building was converted for the use of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s finance police. Remains since found in a grave under the concrete floor of the building were compatible with the period of Lisa’s death, but there was no way of proving definitively that they belonged to the beautiful subject of Leonardo’s 
Mona Lisa.


More reading:


Leonardo da Vinci - painter and inventor

(Photo of No 23 Via della Stufa by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)

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