Who Was the Mysterious Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda (La Joconde) is a 16th-century portrait painted in oil on a poplar panel by Leonardo Da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance. It is arguably the most famous painting in the world, and few other works of art have been subject to as much scrutiny, study, mythologizing and parody.

Her identity was a mystery until recently. German researchers claim they have solved the mystery of the woman who was Mona Lisa. They believe it was Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy merchant in Florence named Francesco del Giocondo.

Leonardo da Vinci Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo Between 1503 and 1506

The history of the Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery. Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection.

The portrait may have been painted to mark one of two events – either when Francesco del Giocondo and his wife bought their own house in 1503, or when their second son, Andrea, was born in December 1502 after the death of a daughter in 1499. The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil. In fact, such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. Her clothing is unremarkable. Neither the yellow sleeves of her gown, nor her pleated gown, nor the scarf delicately draped round her shoulders are signs of aristocratic status.

The discovery is based on dated notes by a Florentine city official who was a friend of the artist. Interestingly, the painting, now on display at the Louvre in Paris, is called La Gioconda in Italian, which means the happy or joyful woman.

( Photo credit: Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier )