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Home / Art and Culture / Taking the mask off Mona Lisa!

Taking the mask off Mona Lisa!

US historian Giuseppe Pallanti traces the origin of Leonardo Da Vinci's creation to a minor noble family.

art-and-culture Updated: May 03, 2007 16:32 IST

For centuries her smile has intrigued her admirers, who have never quite been able to answer one question – just who was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? Now, a historian believes that he has finally been able to unveil the identity of the lady in question, if not the reason behind her smile.

Historian Giuseppe Pallanti, the author of the book "Mona Lisa's Story," has identified Mona Lisa as Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family.

Pallanti has also found that Gherardini, born in an old Florentine house that was originally used as a workshop by wool artisans, was a neighbour of the man who would eventually immortalise her – Leonardo da Vinci.

According to the historian, Gherardini was born on June 15, 1479, in a locality that wasn’t very nice. Her house stood a few hundred feet from the Medieval bridge. Ponte Vecchio, in a dark alley known as Via Sguazza.

"It wasn't a really nice place to live. Rain water and sewage stagnated just in front of the house," Discovery News quoted Pallanti, as saying. Pallanti found evidence of Mona Lisa's birthplace in a 1480 tax declaration by Giovanbattista Corbinelli, the owner of the building that her family rented.

"Corbinelli wrote that the previous year he had turned two workshops used by wool artisans into two small houses. He gave one to his nephew and rented the other to Anton Maria Gherardini and Lucrezia Del Caccia for 16 fiorins per year," Pallanti said.

And like the location she lived in, Mona Lisa’s life wasn’t all that smooth-sailing too, insists Pallanti. "Mona Lisa did exist indeed. My new findings reveal that she lived a very ordinary life, always struggling to live in a decent house," Pallanti said.

Based on the newly discovered archival documents, the historian believes that Mona Lisa’s family fell on hard times when she was around 15, even forcing them to sub-rent the house of the merchant Leonardo Busini in the Santa Croce quarter.

"With my great uneasiness I'm renting half of my house to Anton Maria Gherardini, because they have no house. We agreed that this accommodation won't last more than three years," Busini wrote in a tax declaration found by Pallanti.

And while this may seem unfortunate, it seems that the family’s change of address brought them into close contact with the Da Vinci family.

"What is interesting about this new accommodation is that Leonardo's father — a local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci — and Lisa's family were neighbors. Ser Piero lived just across the street in Via Ghibellina," Pallanti said.

A year later in 1495, at the age of 16 Mona Lisa would shift houses once again when married wealthy Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who was 14 years her senior, and had been a widower for a year.

And though Mona Lisa’s new home, located in present day San Lorenzo market quarter, was a step up from her previous home, its locality left much to be desired, being a favourite haunt of prostitutes.

It was in this house, that Mona Lisa gave birth to five children: Piero, Andrea, Giocondo, Camilla and Marietta. Based on Mona Lisa’s hubby del Giocondo’s will, Pallanti had earlier found that Da Vinci’s father and her husband knew each other, since the document was signed by the notary Ser Piero.

"In the document, Francesco asked his younger daughter, Marietta, to take care of his 'beloved wife,' Lisa. Marietta, who had become a nun, brought her ill mother to the nearby convent of Sant'Orsola," Pallanti said.

Pallanti also found a church archive know as "Book of the Dead," which states that Mona Lisa died four years after her husband's death, and was buried in Sant'Orsola.

"My research confirms that Lisa Gherardini and the Mona Lisa were one and the same. We might never solve the mystery behind her smile, but now we know that she had a modest childhood and a rather ordinardy life," Pallanti said.

Pallanti's search of Mona Lisa’s true identity, which has taken him 25-years to complete, supports a claim first made in 1550 by Giorgio Vasari, who stated in his work, "Lives of the Artists," that Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo as the subject of the portrait.

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