Who was the model for the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci? What was her real name?

Who was the model for the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci? What was her real name?

The Mona Lisa has long been the subject of speculation, admiration, and controversy. The portrait is adored by millions and possibly worth billions, but who exactly was DaVinci’s subject?


The Mysterious Florentine

For centuries, the identity of the model who posed for Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece prompted heated debate. There were no records among DaVinci’s papers pertaining to the painting, and the artwork itself was unnamed, unsigned, and undated. What’s more, the finished portrait was never delivered to the man who commissioned it. DaVinci started work on his seminal piece in 1503 and kept it in his possession until his death in 1519. For decades the image was known simply as “ a certain Florentine lady”. It wasn’t until the historian Giorgio Vasari published a biography of DaVinci’s life and work in 1550 that the painting became known as Mona Lisa. Vasari claimed the lady in question was Madame Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, the 24-year-old wife of a wealthy Florentine. But the historian was known to use literal license in many of his writings, and skeptical historians discounted many of his claims.

Over the years, half a dozen names were mentioned as possible sitters for DaVinci’s greatest work. Some scholars suggested that the muse was Cecilia Gallerani, one of the mistresses of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Gallerani was the subject of DaVinci’s “The Lady With an Ermine” which he completed in 1490. But because her image had already been committed to canvas, most researchers discounted her. Other art analysts believe that the person in the portrait was Isabella of Naples, the granddaughter of King Ferdinand I, and daughter of King Alphonse II and his wife Ippolita Sforza. The rumor mill even generated a story that Isabella and DaVinci were a contracted couple, inked and linked together to produce outstanding offspring. The most vocal supporter of Isabella as DaVinci’s subject was historian Maike Vogt-Luerssen, who wrote a book titled “Who is Mona Lisa? In search of her Identity”. Vogt-Luerssen’s theory was dismissed, primarily because she claimed that the portrait was painted as early as 1489. Other pretenders to the Mona Lisa throne included Costanza D’Avalos, Duchess of Amalfi and a noted poet, and DaVinci’s own mother, Catarina.

Despite such speculation, the truth was right there all along. In 2005, it was ascertained that Vasari’s information was accurate. Armand Schlechter, a manuscript expert at the University of Heidelberg, discovered a margin note in a text that was once owned by , a friend and confidant of DaVinci’s. The note explains that while DaVinci was working on “The Battle of Anghiari” in the great Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence Italy in 1503, he was also working on a pet project, a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a local merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Today, we call her Mona Lisa.

Ever since the Mona Lisa was first glimpsed by an adoring public, admirers have maintained that the subject eyes are alive and follow their every move. How did DaVinci do it?

The artist used a delicate mixture of light, color, and tone to create a masterpiece that has perplexed art lovers for centuries. Employing a technique called sfumato, in Italian it means smoky. DaVinci Blended color and tones into subtle Shadows that created depth and deception. At the time, it was uncommon to use soft, extremely fine shading instead of lines to delineate forms and features, and DaVinci describe the technique as “ without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane.” Depending on how the light falls upon the portrait and the angle from which the observer views it, Mona Lisa’s smile can be perceived to be either a grin or a grimace, and her eyes seem to shift and sway.

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