article: Lisa del Giocondo
Mona Lisa is named for Lisa del Giocondo, a member of the Gherardini
family of Florence and Tuscany and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk
merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was commissioned for their
new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea.
The sitter's identity was ascertained
at the University of Heidelberg in 2005 by a library expert who
discovered a 1503 margin note written by Agostino Vespucci.
Scholars have been of many minds, identifying at least four different
paintings as the Mona Lisa and several people as its
subject. Leonardo's mother Caterina in a distant memory, Isabella
of Naples or Aragon, Cecilia Gallerani, Costanza d'Avalos—who
was also called the "merry one" or La Gioconda, Isabella
d'Este, Pacifica Brandano or Brandino, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina
Sforza, and Leonardo himself have all been named the sitter. Today
the subject's identity is held to be Lisa, which was always the
A margin note by Agostino Vespucci from October 1503 in a book in the
library of the University of Heidelberg identifies Lisa del Giocondo
as the model of Mona Lisa.The painting's title stems from a description
by Giorgio Vasari in his biography of Leonardo published in 1550,
31 years after the artist's death. "Leonardo undertook to
paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his
wife...." (one version in Italian: Prese Lionardo a fare
per Francesco del Giocondo il ritratto di mona Lisa sua moglie).
In Italian, ma donna means my lady. This became madonna, and its
contraction mona. Mona is thus a polite form of address, similar
to Ma’am, Madam, or my lady in English. In modern Italian,
the short form of madonna is usually spelled Monna, so the title
is sometimes Monna Lisa, rarely in English and more commonly in
Romance languages such as French and Italian.
At his death in 1525, Leonardo's
assistant Salai owned the portrait named in his personal papers
la Gioconda which had been bequeathed to him by the artist. Italian
for jocund, happy or jovial, Gioconda was a nickname for the sitter,
a pun on the feminine form of her married name Giocondo and her
disposition. In French, the title La Joconde has the same
Detail of the background (right side)Leonardo used a pyramid design to
place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded
hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck and face
glow in the same light that models her hands. The light gives the variety
of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles. Leonardo
referred to a seemingly simple formula for seated female figure: the
images of seated Madonna, which were widespread at the time. He effectively
modified this formula in order to create the visual impression of distance
between the sitter and the observer. The armrest of the chair functions
as a dividing element between Mona Lisa and the viewer.
The woman sits markedly upright
with her arms folded, which is also a sign of her reserved posture.
Only her gaze is fixed on the observer and seems to welcome them
to this silent communication. Since the brightly lit face is practically
framed with various much darker elements (hair, veil, shadows),
the observer's attraction to Mona Lisa's face is brought to even
greater extent. Thus, the composition of the figure evokes an ambiguous
effect: we are attracted to this mysterious woman but have to stay
at a distance as if she were a divine creature.
There is no indication of an intimate dialogue between the woman
and the observer as is the case in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
(Louvre) painted by Raphael about ten years after Mona Lisa, and
undoubtedly influenced by Leonardo's portrait.
Detail of Lisa's hands, her right hand resting on her left. Leonardo
chose this gesture rather than a wedding ring to depict Lisa as
a virtuous woman and faithful wife. The painting was among the
first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape
and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use aerial perspective.
The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an
open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. Behind her a
vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant
bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The
sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing, created through
sfumato, are echoed in the undulating imaginary valleys and rivers
behind her. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts
of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic
of Leonardo's style. Due to the expressive synthesis that Leonardo
achieved between sitter and landscape it is arguable whether Mona
Lisa should be considered as a traditional portrait, for it represents
an ideal rather than a real woman. The sense of overall harmony
achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's
faint smile—reflects the idea of a link connecting humanity
Mona Lisa has no visible facial
hair—including eyebrows and eyelashes. Some researchers claim
that it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck them
out, since they were considered to be unsightly. In 2007,
French engineer Pascal Cotte announced that his ultra high resolution
scans of the painting provide evidence that Mona Lisa was originally
painted with eyelashes and eyebrows, but that these had gradually
disappeared over time, perhaps as a result of overcleaning.
For modern viewers the missing eyebrows add to the slightly semi-abstract
quality of the face.