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corner ...Mona Lisa's identity
Based on the mid-sixteenth century biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Giorgio Vasari, many historians believe the painting is a portrait of Madam Lisa Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florentine. It is from Vasari that the painting received the name Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda in Italian or La Joconde in French. But Vasari published his book thirty-one years after Leonardo's death, and he was known to fill in fact with fragments of fantasy.

Before Vasari, the painting had been referred to as "a certain Florentine lady" and later, in the collection at Fontainebleau, as "a courtesan in a gauze veil." There are many other theories about who the sitter might have been, based on bits of scattered evidence. But the panel is unsigned and undated, and although most portraits of the time included something to indicate the sitter's family name or social status, no such emblem can be found in the Mona Lisa. Nor is there any record of a commission for the portrait among Leonardo's papers.

pre-Leonardo portrait
pre-Leonardo portrait

It is known that Leonardo worked and reworked the painting for over four years, carrying it with him during his travels and parting with it only at his death. If in fact it was commissioned, why was it not delivered to the patron who had commissioned it?

No theory satisfactorily answers these questions. Some speculate that the Mona Lisa is not a portrait of one woman, but an artful composite of many, Leonardo's idealization of all womanhood. Others suggest it may have been one of Da Vinci's young male models in drag. Some even believe that the Mona Lisa is not a portrait at all, but instead what is known as a "finzione," an invention of Leonardo's extraordinary imagination.

Mona missing | the crime | the suspects | Mona's identity
Leonardo's technique | myth of Mona Lisa | Mona's return | timeline

Mona Lisa
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