No street bears her name. No plaques mark where she lived. Although her mysterious smile has enchanted millions, Lisa Gherardini, born on June 15, 1479, is almost invisible in her hometown. After centuries of neglect, Florence is celebrating the 535th birthday of its most famous daughter with a festival this month. But who was the real woman everyone recognizes yet no one knows?, Huffington Post reports.
Mona (Madame) Lisa Gherardini descended from an ancient clan of Tuscan knights who lorded over a wide swath of Chianti before taking up residence (and arms) within the walls of Florence. The family – among the wealthiest and most bellicose feudal warlords – referred to their fierce temperament as Gherardiname or “Gherardini-ness”.
By the time of Lisa’s birth, the Gherardini glory had faded. Her first home was a converted wool shop on a squalid street in a working class neighborhood.At age fifteen, Lisa was married to a widowed silk merchant almost twice her age.
Mona Lisa’s life spanned the most tumultuous chapters in the history of Florence, decades of war, rebellion, invasion and siege – and of the greatest artistic outpouring the world has ever seen. Amid a galaxy of artistic stars, none outshone Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who began Lisa’s portrait around 1503.
Why did the universal genius of the Renaissance turn down more prestigious commissions and choose a 24-year-old Fiorentina as his model? After delving deep into Lisa’s history, I am convinced that the master of “sapere vedere” (knowing how to see) glimpsed something special in her, perhaps her indomitable Gherardini spirit shining bright. Leonardo kept Lisa’s portrait with him for the rest of his life, infusing it with all that he had learned about painting – and about being human.
Leonardo’s masterpiece did more than revolutionize art with breakthroughs in perspective, proportion and optics. Through his distinctive sfumature (subtle shadings created by feather-light brush strokes), Leonardo breathed life into his portrait of Lisa Gherardini. In her eyes and especially in her smile, we see and sense the soul of a real woman.
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