Mona Lisa In Translation
Mona (Madame) Lisa Gherardini, born in 1479, never ventured beyond her native Italy, yet hers is a face recognized around the world. As Mona LIsa: A Life Discovered makes its way into foreign translations, I delight in seeing the story of this Florentine wife and mother travel into different languages and different places.
The elegant cover of the Danish edition, published by Gyldendal, presents a close-up of the Mona Lisa that highlights her intriguing gaze. I figured out that the copy on the spine translates into "a biography by Dianne Hales," but I needed online help to decipher the subtitle: Alle kender smilet, ingen kender hendes historie (Everyone knows her name, no one knows her story). Who was she? Med kvinden, som blev kunsthistoriens storste kindis (the woman who was art history's greatest celebrity).
Because of my Polish ancestry, I was particularly happy to see the translation published by Dom Wydawniczy PWN. My parents, second-generation Americans who were fluent in Polish, would have gotten a kick out of seeing their daughter described as a wielokrotnie nagradzana dziennikarka i pisarka (award-winnng journalist and writer).
The Japanese edition, published by Kashiwashobo, is a work of minimalist beauty. I had never realized that Japanese books open from left to right and that the complex characters of the language appear in vertical columns rather than horizontal lines. The only words I recognized were the title and my name, but I loved the red ribbon sewn into the binding to serve as a bookmark.
Immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci five centuries ago, Lisa Gherardini could never have imagined that people in countries yet to be discovered at the time of her birth would still be fascinated by her story. If she could, I believe that she would feel honored -- as I do.
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian the World's Most Enchanting Language.