In a tradition that started just a few years ago, Lisa's hometown is celebrating her 537th birthday with a festival. The program for this year includes concerts, a walking tour of her neighborhood of San Frediano, live paintings by local artists, a traveling exhibit of bikers in customized tee shirts, and a photo shoot of contestants dressed like Mona Lisa.
The consummate Renaissance man was born on April 15, 1452 in rural Anchiano, a hamlet near the town of Vinci. His mother, Caterina, was an unmarried country girl. His father Piero, a legal professional called a notaio, moved to Florence shortly thereafter and wed a socially suitable bride. Young Leonardo, listed as “non legittimo” in the local tax records, grew up in his paternal grandparents' home.
After art experts from the Uffizzi and the Louvre confirmed that the portrait brought to Florence was indeed Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, many Florentines hoped that “their” Lisa would remain in residence. However, the Italian government immediately began arrangements to deliver the painting to the French—and to do so “with a solemnity worthy of Leonardo and a spirit of happiness worthy of La Gioconda’s smile.”
For years, Silvio Vinceti, a self-styled tomb raider with no scientific credentials but a knack for generating publicity , led the international media on a merry but misguided quest for the bones of Mona (Madame) Lisa Gherardini, the Florentine woman immortalized in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait. The dubious pursuit ended last month with an utterly predictable result: no conclusive findings.
In spite of the Mona Lisa's international fame, the life and times of the portrait’s subject have largely remained a mystery —until now. In MONA LISA: A Life Discovered, now available in paperback (Simon & Schuster, August 2015, $16.00), award-winning author Dianne Hales finally reveals the woman behind the iconic smile.
More than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci began his portrait of Mona (Madame) Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo in Florence. The maestro understood that paintings endured long after human life ends, but he could never have anticipated that his depiction of a Renaissance wife and mother would inspire countless imitations over the centuries.
When I lived in Northampton, Mass., decades ago, I would make regular pilgrimages to Boston, never failing to visit the wonderful collections at the Museum of Fine Arts. In the years since, both Boston and the MFA have bloomed. It was a joy to return to both—and an honor to present MONA LISA: A Life Discovered as part of an exquisite exhibition, “Leonardo and the Idea of Beauty,” featuring many of his most admired drawings as well as works by his contemporary and rival Michelangelo.