Mona Lisa Walking Tour
With this self-directed tour, you can travel back in time to the city where Lisa Gherardini grew up, married, had children, inspired a genius and survived some of the most tumultuous decades in Florence’s history. Enjoy experiencing Florence in an entirely new way: through Mona Lisa’s eyes!
- Via Sguazza Although the Gherardini once ranked among the most powerful of Tuscan clans, by the fifteenth century, Lisa’s family had lost its wealth and prestige. The best house her father Antonmaria Gherardini could afford to rent was a converted wool shop on a narrow lane in the Oltrarno. A plaque and sculptural relief of Lisa Gherardini marks her birth place close to the lane’s intersection with Via Maggio.
- Battistero di San Giovanni(Baptistery of St. John)
Antonmaria Gherardini, whose first two wives died in childbirth, welcomed his first daughter into the world on June 15, 1479. Carried through Ghiberti’s gleaming doors, Lisa was baptized under the celestial gold-painted ceiling, covered with glass mosaics to form a huge image of Christ the King and Judge.
- Via de’ Pepi
In 1494, Lisa’s maternal grandparents arranged for her family to move into the palazzo of a rich widower who lived around the corner from their Via Ghibellina home on Via de’ Buonfanti (now Via de’ Pepi). Here, in March, 1495, in a strictly civil ceremony, 15-year-old Lisa exchanged wedding vows with 29-year-old Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy merchant and widower.
- Via della Stufa
The newlyweds took up residence in the del Giocondo family home on Via della Stufa, off the Piazza San Lorenzo. Eventually Francesco bought a house (believed to be #23) adjacent to his childhood home for his growing family. Lisa gave birth to six children--three boys and three girls--but two did not survive childhood.
- Palazzo Davanzati
To get a sense of the interior of a merchant’s home, I recommend Palazzo Davanzati, now the Museo della Casa Fiorentina Antica (Museum of the Antique Florentine House), which provides a vivid sense of Firenze com’era (Florence as it was).
- Santissima Annunziata
Leonardo took up residence in this compound in 1500 after fleeing a French invasion of Milan. Leonardo’s father, who handled the church’s commercial enterprises, may have introduced his acclaimed son to Francesco del Giocondo, who provided linens and occasional loans to the friars. Francesco later acquired a family crypt in the “martyrs’ chapel,” just right of center behind the main altar. During one visit, I knelt in the confessional where Mona Lisa may have prayed.
- San Domenico di Cafaggio (now the Centro Militare di Medicina Legale)
As many as half of the daughters of Florentine families who could not afford dowries ended up in nunneries–including two of Lisa’s younger sisters, who took vows in this convent. Francesco and Lisa del Giocondo placed their oldest daughter in this cloister at age 12. She died, perhaps of plague or another infectious illness, at age 19.
- Officina Profuma-farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
A ledger documents that Mona Lisa once purchased a vial of distilled “snail water” (acqua di chiocciole),used as both a cosmetic and a treatment for bronchial and digestive woes, from a convent apothecary much like this one. Established in the thirteenth century, this beautiful shop prepares a range of products according to formulas developed in Mona Lisa’s time. The enticing scents are reason enough to visit!
Just a short block from the del Giocondo home on Via della Stufa, Sant’Orsola was once an exclusive nunnery for daughters of Florence’s elite. Mona Lisa’s youngest daughter entered this convent as a teenager and took her final vows at age 22. After her husband’s death in 1538, Mona Lisa moved to Sant’Orsola, which provided room and board for widows, and chose to be buried there upon her death in 1542.
Today the bleak walls of the hulking urban ruin are blotched with graffiti, peeling posters and bricked-up windows. However, developers are promising to restore its façade and resurrect the complex, perhaps as a music school, along with a restaurant, parking garage, bookstore--and a museum dedicated to Lisa Gherardini.
- Uffizi Gallery
Here you can find Leonardo’s Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi, along with Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ, which includes an angel by Leonardo.