5 things you never knew about Mona Lisa

A new book sheds light on the mostly unknown life of Leonardo da Vinci's muse, Mona Lisa.

Nine million people visit the Louvre each year to see "Mona Lisa," but few know anything about the woman the painting is of. Credit: Getty Images Nine million people visit the Louvre each year to see "Mona Lisa," but few know anything about the woman the painting is of.
Credit: Getty Images

 

She's one of the most famous - and famously mocked - women in history. The notorious painting by Leonardo da Vinci has been modified to show Mona Lisa doing everything from smoking a cigar or drinking a beer to taking a selfie. And even when the painting is being adored by the 9 million who flock to the Louvre each year to see the 77x53cm painting behind bulletproof glass, it's being revered with very little being known about da Vinci's muse. Dianne Hales is attempting to change all of that with her new book, "Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered." Here, we get the author to share some of the juiciest bits. Then, click here to see three more book picks for art lovers.

 

 

1. She survived the odds.Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo lived in Florence during the Renaissance at a time when one in four women died in childbirth. Through her research, Hales found that Lisa gave birth to six children, two of which died at a young age. "She wasn't just a cipher," Hales says. "This is a woman who sat before Leonardo with many life experiences."

 

2. Though married, she was drawn to convent life.When Lisa was 15, she was married off to a 29-year-old, an arrangement that was common at the time. When her own two daughters reached marital age, she placed them in a convent and after her husband died, she moved into a convent herself. "Catholicism was part of it, but within these convents, girls were educated, could sing, embroider. ... I'm not glorifying its life, but they could be accountants and have careers of sorts," says Hales.

3. Her family was scandalous.Politically and personally, Lisa's family history is far from squeaky clean. Her husband had very unpopular political beliefs, which even landed him in jail for a few days, according to Hales. And her father was an impoverished noble, so he was broke and always avoiding bill collectors. Because he couldn't afford a dowry to marry off all his daughters, two of Lisa's younger sisters were placed in a convent. "One night, a handsome young man and his friends climbed the walls and an observer saw them and the sisters engaged in what he called 'obscenities,'" Hales says. "The young men were charged and there was a trial. And I bet there was hell to pay for the girls in the convent!"

4. Leonardo da Vinci was obsessed with his painting of her.Though the painting is worth at least $100 million today, da Vinci was never paid for it, mostly because he never seemed completely finished with it. "He kept the painting with him for the rest of his life," says Hales. "I think there was something in her face or her presence that intrigued him. ... He kept coming back to this portrait and adding things to it. ... I have a feeling that Lisa had a particular hold on his imagination."

5. She was the star of the first tabloid story.After da Vinci died, the king of France bought it and it was later placed in King Louis XIV's bedroom and then Napoleon's. "It went through periods of obscurity, but then in the 19th century, the Romantics discovered it," explains Hales. "They thought this woman was the ultimate femme fetal." In 1911, the painting was stolen. This was at a time when the tabloids had just been invented and the news was sensationalized and written about all over the world. Suddenly, this woman with the half-smile become someone people couldn't stop talking about.

"Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered" comes out August 5. Credit: Provided "Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered" comes out August 5.
Credit: Provided

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence

 
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