del Giocondo, Lisa (1474–?)

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del Giocondo, Lisa (1474–?)

Florentine woman. Name variations: Mona Lisa; Monna Lisa; Lisa Ghevardini; Mona Lisa de' Gherardini; La Gioconda. Born Lisa Ghevardini in Naples, Italy, in 1474; death date unknown; married Francesco di Zanobi del Giocondo (a Florentine merchant), in 1495.

Lisa del Giocondo was a beautiful woman of Florence, whose face inspired one of the most famous paintings in the world—the Mona Lisa. Though del Giocondo was born in Naples, where she lived as a girl, her maiden name Ghevardini was that of an ancient, noble family of Florentines. In 1495, she married Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine merchant; during the rest of her life, as far as is known, she lived in Florence, where she seems to have been a happy wife and mother, but of her later years there is no record.

It was probably in the first year of her marriage that she met Leonardo da Vinci, and a friendship began that grew into a platonic affection, about which many writers have woven romance. In 1503, according to a contemporary art critic Giorgio Vasari, da Vinci was commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo to paint his wife's portrait. "After toiling over it for four years, he left it unfinished" and refused to give it to Francesco.

Physically, morally and intellectually, Lisa del Giocondo fascinated da Vinci; he painted her again and again. The extent of her influence is manifest in much of his work, and his major paintings produce something of her personality. The Mona Lisa smile can be found over and over in Northern Italy where works of da Vinci and his pupils are to be seen; the painting, known as La Gioconda or Mona Lisa set a fashion in vitality and subtlety of expression absolutely unrivalled. "Some have speculated that she was pregnant at the time of the portrait, while others have claimed she was asthmatic," wrote Mervin and Prunhuber, "But no one has ever penetrated the mystery of her smile."

In 1516, da Vinci journeyed to France, to the court of Francis I, who cordially welcomed the artist and heaped him with honors. The artist brought with him the portrait, La Gioconda, for which the king paid him 4,000 gold ecus, an immense sum in those days. Three years later, da Vinci died, while his famous Mona Lisa remained at Fontainebleau for more than a century until Louis XIV took her to Versailles. After the French Revolution, the painting with "the irresistible enigmatic smile" found its final resting place on the walls of the Louvre.

On August 21, 1911, the artistic world was shocked by the news that the Mona Lisa had been stolen, but it was returned after several months. An Italian painter, employed by the museum, had walked off with the painting and tried to sell it in Italy. It now hangs as of old, one of the chief ornaments of the Louvre, and one of the most precious pictures in France.


Mervin, Sabrina, and Carol Prunhuber. Women: Around the World and Through the Ages. Wilmington, DE: Atomium Books, 1990.