In 1502 Leonardo DaVinci began painting what would become his defining masterwork, the Mona Lisa. Completed over the course of the four years to follow, the Mona Lisa has long been a symbol of the Renaissance and the artistic mastery of a man who did so many things in his life. Many have pondered the question – why did Leonardo paint Mona Lisa? The most commonly held belief is that it was a commission to paint the wife of a nobleman he was acquainted with. Others have held the belief that he may have painted himself as a woman or that the woman pictured was someone else, or possibly a lover.
How Old was Mona Lisa?
According to Giorgio Vasari, the Italian biographer of painters in the 16th century, the sitter for DaVinci’s painting was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a silk merchant in Florence. As his third wife, Lisa Gherardini, was born in 1479 and raised in Tuscany until marrying del Giocondo in 1495. That would have made Gherardini 24 years old when Leonardo started on the Mona Lisa, her husband much older than her.
In recent years there has been a lot more research on the identity and life of Gherardini and her role in DaVinci’s life and painting. It has been said that DaVinci’s father was friends with del Giocondo and that he most likely commissioned the painting himself for his friends. During the course of their marriage, Gherardini and her husband had five children and she died in 1542 at the age of 63.
Further study and research in the last two years has revealed that Gherardini’s second son was born in the same year as the Mona Lisa was started, meaning it likely would have been a commission commemorating that birth. This also lends to the theories about the veil Mona Lisa wears in the painting which many have pointed to as a common sign of pregnancy at that time.
Other Theories and Mona Lisa Facts
The only problem with blindly believing Vasari’s account of the painting is that by the time he was writing his biographies, the painting was in France, before he was even born actually. This has prompted many people to theorize other possibilities for the origins of the sitter in DaVinci’s painting.
There are quotes from DaVinci regarding a portrait of a Florentine Lady, which might also be one of two other portraits of women painted by him. There have been other comments that caused confusion, at one time even linking the painting to Francesco del Giocondo himself.
However, the most famous and controversial theory of alternate sources for the model are that the painting is a self-portrait. Comparing the self portraits of Leonardo that he drew in his life time with the facial points and features of the Mona Lisa, recent computer analysis has shown nearly flawless comparisons.
Some people state that this is likely because DaVinci was most familiar with his own face and that both pieces of art were drawn by him. However, there have also been theories that the self-portrait described is actually a picture of DaVinci’s mother, explaining the similarities between the two. Another famous painting of DaVinci’s, that of St. John the Baptist, contains many of the same features of the Mona Lisa and shows many similarities to DaVinci’s facial features. Whatever the correct answer it is clear that for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa was a labor of love.