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MONA LISA” AND LEONARDO'S FEMALE PORTRAITS—THE "NEPTUNE”
LEDA -DEPARTURE FROM FLORENCE.
Le temps efface l'art avec un doigt trop prompt,
ELIGIOUS and historical art—the Saint Anne
and the Battle of Anghiari-had not so absorbed
Leonardo as to leave him no time for less serious work :1 there is a pendant to these two masterpieces—the most marvellous of all portraits, antique or modern, the glory of the Louvre—the Mona Lisa.
Poets and novelists, historians and ästhetic students, have all done honour to the prodigies of execution apparent in the Gioconda, and built up a series of the most ingenious hypotheses as to the character of the original. But none of them have ever attempted to tear aside the veil that conceals a personality which must assuredly have possessed a sovereign attraction, nor searched bygone archives for any enlightenment as
to the life and surroundings of Mona Lisa Gioconda. At the first blush, such an enquiry would seem to promise but little interest. The “raison d'être ” of La Gioconda is the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. But for him, the name of this obscure Florentine
DESIGN FOR A
As, early as 1501, Fra Pietro da Nuvolaria reports in one of his letters to the Marchesa Isabella d'Este, that two of Leonardo's pupils were painting portraits, which he occasionally touched up. What they were is unknown. VOL. II
patrician would never have fallen upon our ears, nor would her image have haunted our imaginations. Nevertheless, I have held it my duty, as a historian, to attack this problem, and to add some details, still very far from complete, to the biography of Leonardo's heroine.
The Giocondo family was one of the most important in Florence. Lisa's husband, Francesco di Bartolommeo di Zanobi del Giocondo (born 1460, died 1528), filled several important public offices: in 1499 he was one of the twelve “ Buonomini,” in 1512 he was one of the “ Priori,” and was confirmed in the office in 1524.
The Giocondo race loved art and artists. Francesco commissioned D. Puligo to paint him a St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. His son caused Antonio di Donnino Mazzieri to paint a History of the Martyrs, intended for the chapel in the Annunziata, which contained the family burying-place. Another member of the family, Leonardo, bought a Madonna from Andrea del Sarto.
When in the year 1495) Francesco took to wife Mona (the abbreviation of Madonna) Lisa, he had already, within the space of four years, seen two wives depart to a better world. He had married Camilla di Mariotto Ruccellai in 1491, and Tommasa di Mariotto Villani in 1493.
His third wife was of Neapolitan origin; she belonged to the Gherardini family, possibly a branch of the Florentine stock bearing the same name. To these facts, unfortunately, the information I have been able to collect as to this first phase of her existence is limited. The enquiries kindly instituted at my request by Signor Barone, archivist of the Neapolitan state archives, have borne no fruit. In all probability, the child which died in 1499, and was buried at Sta. Maria Novella, was the issue of this third marriage, and consequently Lisa's daughter.1
As for Bartolommeo del Giocondo, to whom we have just referred in connection with a picture by Mazzieri, it is not known whether he was the son of Mona Lisa, or of one of Francesco's two former
1 “Il 1° giugno 1499. Una fanciulla di Francesco del Giocondo, riposta in Sta. Maria Novella” (Libro dei Morti. State archives, Florence. Communicated by Signor Al. Carli). Between 1490 and 1545 were buried in the same church, Zanobi di Domenico, Piero di Bartolommeo, a daughter of Amadeo's, Antonio di Zanobi, two sons of Zanobi's, Maddalena di Amadeo, Lorenzo, Fiammetta, wife of Amadeo, Elisabetta, one of Jacopo's wives, Andrea d'Antonio, and Raffaello.
wives. On the supposition that Mona Lisa was twenty when she married, she may have been near thirty when her portrait was painted. From that time onward she disappears into obscurity.
This picture of Mona Lisa has its story; we might almost say, its legend. Vasari relates that while Leonardo worked upon it, he was careful to surround his sitter with musicians, singers, and buffoons, who kept her in a state of gentle merriment, so as to avoid the look of melancholy apparent in most portraits. And thus, Vasari tells us, “this portrait of Leonardo's wears so delightful a smile that the work looks more divine than human, and is considered a most marvellous and life-like thing, even when compared with Nature herself.”
There are but few studies for La Gioconda, and—as if the artist had resolved to puzzle us—the chief of these, a red chalk drawing in the Windsor Library, of two hands, laid one upon the other, and another single hand, is strangely unlike the work itself. Its angular forms are in complete contrast to the delicate modelling of the actual picture. The fingers are bony and the nails square.
One is tempted, on the other hand, to see a preparatory study for La Gioconda in the half-length portrait of a nude woman, in the Condé Museum at Chantilly. It is quite certain that this cartoon marks the transition between the Mona Lisa and the Bacchus.
Any attempt to analyse a marvel which is in every memory, and describe a portrait which excels all others in beauty and in fame, must seem superfluous.
My readers are well aware that for nearly four centuries Mona Lisa Gioconda has been an indecipherable and fascinating enigma to all the admirers who have crowded about her. “Never did any other artist (I borrow the words of the delicate writer who conceals his identity under the pseudonym Pierre de Corlay) so reproduce the very essence of woman. There is tenderness, and there is coquetry; there is modesty, and there is hidden passion; all the mystery of a heart that is itself in reserve; of a brain that reflects; of a person who guards her own individuality, and only sheds its radiance on others! Mona Lisa is thirty. Her charms have blossomed out. Her serene beauty, the reflection of her strong cheerful nature, is chaste and tempting at once. Kind, with a spice of malice ; proud, but with a touch of wise condescension to her admirers. Freely and