The Mona Lisa, also known as the Gioconda, is definitely the most famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It is perhaps even the most famous painting in the world. Today it is kept in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the setting for Dan Brown’s first novel The Da Vinci Code. According to tradition, the Gioconda is the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as Mona Lisa, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, hence the nickname Gioconda.
Biography of Lisa Gherardini
Lisa was born in Florence on June 15, 1479, into a noble Florentine family, the Gherardini of Tuscany. At the age of 15, she married Francesco del Giocondo, a rich silk merchant older than her and already twice married. Together they had five children: Piero, Camilla, Andrea, Giocondo, and Marietta. Lisa also raised Francesco’s son from his first wife. Camilla and Marietta became Catholic nuns. During the last years of her life Lisa moved with her daughter Marietta into the convent of St. Ursula, where she was buried, according to historical documentation.
The mystery of her death and of the tomb
In May 2011 the search began for the remains of Lisa Gherardini in the basement of St.Ursula, in which are buried the nuns of the convent and some of their relatives. Leading the search is Silvano Vinceti, who wants to find the remains of Lisa Gherardini and then compare her face with that of the Gioconda in the Louvre. The investigation conducted by Professor Silvano Vinceti has closed the net around three skeletons, the only ones compatible with the age of Gherardini at the time of her death. However, examination of the carbon 14 has removed the possibility of identifying the Gherardini with at least two of these skeletons: the other skeleton is older by a few decades. Researchers have therefore focused their attention on the last skeleton, although the poor state of preservation has prevented a verification of the C14.
The hypothesis of the transfer of the body
Francesco del Giocondo and his three sons were buried in a crypt, the Chapel of the Martyrs, under the church Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
The hypothesis is that during renovations to the church of St. Ursula in the mid-1600s, the body was transferred to the Santissima Annunziata and thereby reunited with the rest of her family. A sampling of DNA and comparison with the skeletons found so far would be the next step.
Lisa Gherardini is the Gioconda?
According to Vasari, Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint a portrait of his wife, which Leonardo never delivered to the customer and left unfinished for many years. But the paint described by Vasari does not match some important details found on the Gioconda as seen in its present state. Nonetheless, it is true that Leonardo corrected the painting over and over again. Vinceti emphasizes the fact that Leonardo sketched the preparatory cartoon for the lost painting of Sant’Anna in a room inside the Santissima Annunziata (another St. Anne was later painted by Leonardo: St. Anne, the Virgin, and Child with the lamb kept in the Louvre). Vinceti is of the view that this was the first meeting between Lisa Gherardini and the painter who would make her famous throughout the world.
The reconstruction of the face of the Mona Lisa
If we could find the skeleton of Lisa Gherardini, we could finally reveal the mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa and the relationship between Leonardo and his models. The last step, fascinating and controversial, would be the reconstruction of the face of Lisa through the discovery of her skull. The smile of the Mona Lisa, so ancient and enigmatic, has been entrusted to humanity, which continues to preserve it through the memory and the relentless pursuit of the original.