People often say, “A picture paints a thousand words.” While that holds true for most pictures, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has for centuries continued to evade the understanding of art critics, historians, and the public.
On display in the Louvre, the tiny portrait is often touted as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” As such, a deeper investigation into the mysterious smiling woman on the canvas reveals much more than meets the eye.
The true identity of the portrait sitter remains a mysterious aspect. The majority of thinkers believe the woman to be 24-year-old Lisa Maria de Gherardini (aka Lisa del Giocondo), an Italian noblewoman born in Florence in 1479.
Her portrait was commissioned by her husband, Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo. She lived a middle-class life with her husband working as a silk and cloth merchant. She conceived five children: Piero, Andrea, Camilla, Giocondo, and Marietta.
Other hypotheses suggest that the woman in the painting matches the face of Caterina Sforza, the countess of Forli, and a most formidable foe in military operations. Another theory proposes the young lady to be a mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence, or Isabella d’Este, the marquise of Mantua. Others have thought the woman to be a portrait of da Vinci’s mother or da Vinci himself due to the similarity of facial structures.