Everybody knows her smile, but no one knows her story: Meet the flesh-and-blood woman who became one of the most famous artistic subjects of all time—Mona Lisa.
A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Every year more than 9 million visitors trek to view her portrait in the Louvre.Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, hardly anyone knows her story. Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, a blend of biography, history, and memoir, truly is a book of discovery—about the world’s most recognized face, most revered artist, and most praised and parodied painting. Who was she, this ordinary woman who rose to such extraordinary fame? Why did the most renowned painter of her time choose her as his model? What became of her? And why does her smile enchant us still?
Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542) was a quintessential woman of her times, caught in a whirl of political upheavals, family dramas, and public scandals. Her life spanned the most tumultuous chapters in the history of Florence—and of the greatest artistic outpouring the world has ever seen. Her story creates an extraordinary tapestry of Renaissance Florence, with larger-than-legend figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli.
Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua, became obsessed with finding the real Mona Lisa on repeated trips to Florence. In Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, she takes readers with her to meet Lisa’s descendants; uncover her family’s long and colorful history; and explore the neighborhoods where she lived as a girl, a wife, and a mother. In the process, we can participate in Lisa’s daily rituals; understand her personal relationships; and see, hear, smell, and taste “her” Florence. Hales brings to life a time poised between the medieval and the modern, a vibrant city bursting into fullest bloom, and a culture that redefined the possibilities of man—and of woman.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The sheer amount of research and man (well in this case woman) hours that went into this flawless book is deserving of five stars. Dianne Hales is a passionate researcher, this much is clear, but she is also a gifted writer. Where many non-fiction books tend to be dry and somewhat acerbic in their approach to delivering information, this author uses her talent as a story teller to make you see and feel what you are reading. The descriptions in this book are incredible.
Rather than sitting in the national archives of Italy for the entire duration of research needed to compile the factual backbone of this book, Dianne Hales went and lived the life (or as close to the life) of Lisa Gherardini as she could. She walked the same streets, saw similar sights and pieced together the missing parts of a life that has been so important to so many but never fully appreciated until now.
This book offers amazing insight into the life of a woman that we all recognise but most of us know little to nothing about. The author also carefully constructed the timeline of Da Vinci and offered a thorough historical background on the history of the Gherardini family tree. While there are still mysteries that remain, this book offers a rather comprehensive look at Florentine life many years ago.
The way this book is organised offers the reader a step-by-step journey into the past, progressively moving forward to the actual painting of the subject at the core of this writing. The author was careful to remain impartial and use the evidence she compiled to support her work, rather than letting this run wild with opinion.
I was greatly impressed with this book and think scholars of the age as well as anyone interested in art history will gain from reading this.
Excellent book, written with passion and intensity.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from Netgalley and the Publisher. All opinions are my own.