Lisa del Giocondo

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Lisa del Giocondo
detail of the painting showing Lisa's face
Detail of Mona Lisa (1503–1506) by
Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre
Lisa Gherardini

June 15, 1479
DiedJuly 15, 1542 (aged 63)
Convent of Saint Orsola, Duchy of Florence
Known forSubject of Mona Lisa
Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo
(m. 1495)

Lisa del Giocondo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈliːza del dʒoˈkondo]; née Gherardini [ɡerarˈdiːni]; June 15, 1479 – July 15, 1542) was an Italian noblewoman and member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany. Her name was given to the Mona Lisa, her portrait commissioned by her husband and painted by Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance.

Little is known about Lisa's life. Born in Florence and married in her teens to a cloth and silk merchant and shoemaker who later became a local official, she was a mother to five children and led what is thought to have been a comfortable and ordinary middle-class life. Lisa outlived her husband, who was considerably her senior.

In the centuries after Lisa's death, the Mona Lisa became the world's most famous painting.[1] In 2005, Lisa was definitively identified as the model for the Mona Lisa.[2]

Early life and family[edit]

Lisa's Florentine family was old and aristocratic but over time had lost their influence.[3] They were well off but not wealthy, and lived on farm income in a city that was among the largest in Europe. While economically successful, there were great disparities in wealth among Florence's inhabitants.[4]

Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini, Lisa's father, came from a family who had lived on properties near San Donato in Poggio and only recently moved to the city.[5]

Antonmaria lost two wives, Lisa di Giovanni Filippo de' Carducci, whom he married in 1465, and Caterina di Mariotto Rucellai, whom he married in 1473. Both died in childbirth.[6] Lisa's mother was Lucrezia del Caccia, daughter of Piera Spinelli, and Gherardini's wife by his third marriage in 1476.[6] Gherardini at one time owned or rented six farms in Chianti that produced wheat, wine and olive oil and where livestock was raised.[7]

Lisa was born in Florence on June 15, 1479, on Via Maggio,[6] although for many years it was thought she was born on Villa Vignamaggio just outside Greve, one of the family's rural properties.[8] She is named for Lisa, a wife of her paternal grandfather.[9] The eldest of seven children, Lisa had three sisters, one of whom was named Ginevra, and three brothers, Giovangualberto, Francesco, and Noldo.[10]

The family lived in Florence, originally near Santa Trinita and later in rented space near Santo Spirito, most likely because they were not able to afford repairs when their first house was damaged. Lisa's family moved to what today is called Via dei Pepi, and then near Santa Croce, where they lived near Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo's father.[11] They also owned a small country home in St. Donato in the village of Poggio about 32 kilometres (20 mi) south of the city.[12] Noldo, Gherardini's father and Lisa's grandfather, had bequeathed a farm in Chianti to the Santa Maria Nuova hospital. Gherardini secured a lease for another of the hospital's farms and, so that he could oversee the wheat harvest, the family spent summers there at the house named Ca' di Pesa.[7]

Marriage and later life[edit]

On March 5, 1495, 15-year-old Lisa married Francesco del Giocondo, a modestly poor cloth and silk merchant, becoming his third wife. Lisa's dowry was 170 florins and the San Silvestro farm near her family's country home,[13] which lies between Castellina and San Donato in Poggio, near two farms later owned by Michelangelo.[11] The modest dowry may be a sign that the Gherardini family was not wealthy at the time and lends reason to think she and her husband loved each other. Neither poor nor among the most well-to-do in Florence, the couple lived a middle-class life. Lisa's marriage may have increased her social status because her husband's family may have been richer than her own.[13] Francesco is thought to have benefited because Gherardini is an "old name".[14] They lived in shared accommodation until 5 March 1503, when Francesco was able to buy a house next door to his family's old home in the Via della Stufa. Leonardo is thought to have begun painting Lisa's portrait the same year.[15][16]

Lisa and Francesco had five children: Piero, Piera, Camilla, Marietta, and Andrea between 1496 and 1502.[17] Lisa lost a baby daughter in 1499.[12] Lisa also raised Bartolomeo, the son of Francesco and his first wife Camilla di Mariotto Rucellai, who died shortly after the birth. The second wife of Lisa's father, Caterina di Mariotto Rucellai, and Francesco's first wife were sisters, members of the Rucellai family [it].[16]

Camilla and Marietta became Catholic nuns. Camilla took the name Suor Beatrice and entered the convent of San Domenico di Cafaggio, where she was entrusted to the care of Antonmaria's sister Suor Albiera and Lisa's sister Suor Camilla (who was acquitted in a scandalous visitation by four men at the convent) and Suor Alessandra.[18][clarification needed] Beatrice died at age 18[18] and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.[19] Lisa developed a relationship with Sant'Orsola, a convent held in high regard in Florence, where she was able to place Marietta in 1521. Marietta took the name Suor Ludovica and became a respected member of the convent in a position of some responsibility.[20]

Francesco became an official in Florence. He was elected to the Dodici Buonomini in 1499 and to the Signoria in 1512, where he was confirmed as a Priori in 1524. He may have had ties to Medici family political or business interests. In 1512, when the government of Florence feared the return of the Medici from exile, Francesco was imprisoned and fined 1,000 florins. He was released in September when the Medici returned.[19][21]

In June 1537, in his will among many provisions, Francesco returned Lisa's dowry to her, gave her personal clothing and jewelry and provided for her future. Upon entrusting her care to their daughter Ludovica and, should she be incapable, his son Bartolomeo, Francesco wrote, "Given the affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife; in consideration of the fact that Lisa has always acted with a noble spirit and as a faithful wife; wishing that she shall have all she needs…"[22]


In one account, Francesco died in the plague of 1538. Lisa fell ill and was taken by her daughter Ludovica to the convent of Sant'Orsola, where she died on July 15, 1542, at the age of 63.[23][24][25] In a scholarly account of their lives, Francesco was nearly 80 years old when he died, and Lisa may have lived until at least 1551, when she would have been 71 or 72.[12]

Mona Lisa[edit]

The full Mona Lisa painting (English: Mona Lisa, Italian: La Gioconda, French: La Joconde) by Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre

Like other Florentines of their financial means, Francesco's family members were art lovers and patrons. His son Bartolomeo asked Antonio di Donnino Mazzieri to paint a fresco at the family's burial site in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata di Firenze. Andrea del Sarto painted a Madonna for another member of his family.[19] Francesco gave commissions to Leonardo for a portrait of his wife and to Domenico Puligo for a painting of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is thought to have commissioned Lisa's portrait to celebrate both Andrea's birth and the purchase of the family's home.[16]

The Mona Lisa fulfilled 15th- and early 16th century requirements for portraying a woman of virtue. Lisa is portrayed as a faithful wife through gesture—her right hand rests over her left. Leonardo also presented Lisa as fashionable and successful, perhaps more well-off than she was. Her dark garments and black veil were Spanish-influenced high fashion; they are not a depiction of mourning for her first daughter, as some scholars have proposed. The portrait is strikingly large; its size is equal to that of commissions acquired by wealthier art patrons of the time. This extravagance has been explained as a sign of Francesco and Lisa's social aspiration.[26]

During the spring of 1503, Leonardo had no income source, which may in part explain his interest in a private portrait.[21][27] But later that year, he most likely had to delay his work on Mona Lisa when he received payment for starting The Battle of Anghiari, which was a more valuable commission and one he was contracted to complete by February 1505.[28] In 1506, Leonardo considered the portrait unfinished.[29] He was not paid for the work and did not deliver it to his client.[30] The artist's paintings travelled with him throughout his life, and he may have completed the Mona Lisa many years later in France,[14] in one estimation by 1516.[31]

The painting's title dates to 1550. An acquaintance of at least some of Francesco's family,[12] Giorgio Vasari, wrote, "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife"[29] (Italian: Prese Lionardo a fare per Francesco del Giocondo il ritratto di mona Lisa sua moglie.).[32] The portrait's Italian name La Gioconda is the feminine form of her married name. In French it is known by the variant La Joconde. Though derived from Lisa's married name there is the added significance that the name derives from the word for "happy" (in English, "jocund") or "the happy one".[14]

Speculation assigned Lisa's name to at least four different paintings and her identity to at least ten different people.[33][34] By the end of the 20th century, the painting was a global icon that had been used in more than 300 other paintings and in 2,000 advertisements, appearing at an average of one new advertisement each week.[35]

Vespucci's notation on an old manuscript
Agostino Vespucci's margin note

In 2005, an expert at the University Library of Heidelberg discovered a margin note in the library's collection that established with certainty the traditional view that the sitter was Lisa. The note, written by Agostino Vespucci in 1503, states that Leonardo was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.[2] The Mona Lisa has been in custody of France since the 16th century, when it was acquired by King Francis I; since the French Revolution, it has been the property of the French Republic.[36] Today about six million people visit the painting each year at the Louvre in Paris, where it is part of a French national collection.[37]


  1. ^ Riding, Alan (April 6, 2005). "In Louvre, New Room With View of 'Mona Lisa'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Mona Lisa – Heidelberg discovery confirms identity)". University Library Heidelberg. Archived from the original on May 8, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2008.
  3. ^ Pallanti 2006, p. 58
  4. ^ Pallanti 2006, pp. 17, 23, 24
  5. ^ Kemp, Martin (2017). Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting. p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Pallanti 2006, p. 37
  7. ^ a b Pallanti 2006, pp. 41–44
  8. ^ "History of Vignamaggio". Villa Vignamaggio. Archived from the original on May 12, 2006. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  9. ^ Pallanti 2006, p. 40
  10. ^ Pallanti 2006, p. 44
  11. ^ a b Pallanti 2006, pp. 45–46
  12. ^ a b c d Zöllner 1993, p. 4
  13. ^ a b Zöllner 1993, p. 5
  14. ^ a b c Kemp, Martin (2006). Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature And Man. pp. 261–262. ISBN 0-19-280725-0. Retrieved October 5, 2007.
  15. ^ "Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo". Retrieved October 4, 2007.
  16. ^ a b c Zöllner 1993, p. 9
  17. ^ Johnston, Bruce (January 1, 2004). "Riddle of Mona Lisa is finally solved: she was the mother of five". Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on April 27, 2006. Retrieved October 6, 2007.
  18. ^ a b Pallanti 2006, pp. 61–62
  19. ^ a b c Müntz 1898, p. 154
  20. ^ Pallanti 2006, p. 63
  21. ^ a b Masters, Roger D. (June 15, 1998). Fortune is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli's Magnificent Dream of Changing the Course of Florentine History (online notes for Chapter 6). Free Press via Dartmouth College ( ISBN 0-684-84452-4. Archived from the original on February 3, 2009.
  22. ^ Pallanti 2006, p. 105
  23. ^ Lorenzi, Rossella (January 19, 2007). "Mona Lisa Grave Found, Claims Scholar". Discovery Channel News. Discovery Communications. Archived from the original on November 26, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2007.
  24. ^ Lorenzi, Rossella (May 2, 2007). "Mona Lisa's Identity Revealed?". Discovery Channel News. Discovery Communications. Archived from the original on October 8, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2007.
  25. ^ Squires, Nick (September 24, 2015). "Who was Mona Lisa? Burial breakthrough may solve identity mystery behind Da Vinci masterpiece". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022.
  26. ^ Zöllner 1993, p. 12
  27. ^ Zöllner 1993, p. 7
  28. ^ Müntz 1898, p. 136
  29. ^ a b Clark, Kenneth (March 1973). "Mona Lisa". The Burlington Magazine. 115 (840): 144–151. ISSN 0007-6287. JSTOR 877242., quoting a translation of Vasari
  30. ^ Zöllner 1993, p. 6
  31. ^ "Mona Lisa 1503–16". University of the Arts, London. Retrieved October 24, 2007.
  32. ^ Vasari, Giorgio (1879) [1550, rev. ed. 1568]. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori. Vol. IV. Gaetano Milanesi. Firenze: G.C. Sansoni. p. 39. Retrieved October 5, 2007.
  33. ^ Stites, Raymond S. (January 1936). "Mona Lisa--Monna Bella". Parnassus. College Art Association via JSTOR. 8 (1): 7–10+22–23. doi:10.2307/771197. JSTOR 771197. and Littlefield, Walter (1914). The Two "Mona Lisas". p. 525. Retrieved October 9, 2007. and Wilson, Colin (2000). The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved. pp. 364–366. ISBN 0-7867-0793-3.
  34. ^ Debelle, Penelope (June 25, 2004). "Behind that secret smile". The Age. The Age Company. Retrieved October 6, 2007. and Johnston, Bruce (January 8, 2004). "Riddle of Mona Lisa is finally solved: she was the mother of five". Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved October 6, 2007., and Nicholl, Charles (review of Mona Lisa: The History of the World's Most Famous Painting by Donald Sassoon) (March 28, 2002). "The myth of the Mona Lisa". Guardian Unlimited. London Review of Books via Guardian News and Media. Retrieved October 6, 2007. and Chaundy, Bob (September 29, 2006). "Faces of the Week". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved October 5, 2007.
  35. ^ Sassoon 2001, Abstract and p. 16
  36. ^ Sassoon 2001, p. 8
  37. ^ Chaundy, Bob (September 29, 2006). "Faces of the Week". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved October 5, 2007. and Canetti, Claudine (n.d.). "The world's most famous painting has the Louvre all aflutter". Actualité en France via French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs ( Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2007.


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