Mona Lisa is beautiful

"All truths are easy to understand once they have been discovered. But you have to discover them first." - Galileo Galilei

"To get to the source, you have to swim against the current." - Author unknown

"Nothing is more amazing than the simple truth, nothing is more exotic than our environment, nothing is more imaginative than objectivity." - Egon Erwin Kisch

Have you always wanted to know which allegations, for which there is no evidence, are speculations about the most famous portrait painting in the world, which can be found in the Louvre under the title "Mona Lisa" historical facts that can be proven by sources? When researching my book “Who is Mona Lisa? In Search of Her Identity ”and my further sifting through our three university libraries in Adelaide, South Australia, it turned out that the speculations regarding the“ Mona Lisa ”have unfortunately been marketed as historical truths for over 100 years. Critical work on this portrait painting has become very rare. Even the professional world has shifted to "parroting". According to the motto: “What so many experts have said before us cannot be wrong”. However, a thorough browsing of the libraries reveals that the answer to the question, “Who is Mona Lisa?” Could have been answered hundreds of years ago. “The truth is out there!” (Namely in the libraries). Educational work is therefore urgently needed.

Speculation 1:

The lady in Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait is Mona Lisa, the wife of the Florentine silk merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo.

This claim by art historian Frank Zöllner is a pure conjecture for which no historical evidence is available. Nevertheless, this assumption is meanwhile uncritically spread not only by many of his colleagues as a historical fact.

Like so many paintings and drawings (over 95%) from the Renaissance, this work of art has not been signed or dated. Nevertheless, we can safely assume that the original of this masterpiece was created by the Florentine painter and universal genius Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). However, the date when it was manufactured and the person who represents it have so far remained a mystery to us. Because the artist's numerous notebooks are filled with his hundreds of ideas, his mathematical formulas and calculations, sketches of technical innovations, drawings of heads, limbs, animals and plants and sometimes information about his household expenses and contain very few personal entries.

The tool of art historians, the history of style or image genesis, is also not suitable for determining 1. who was depicted in the portraits of the 15th and 16th centuries and 2. when they were made. The works of pioneers of a style of painting and of good imitators are often incorrectly dated. Yes, even when assigning the paintings to the presumed painter, the art historians made gross mistakes. The works of the great Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguisciola (1532-1630) (Fig. 1), until 1995, were her male colleagues such as Leonardo da Vinci, Tizian, Coello, Moroni, Tintoretto, Bassano, Salviati, Bronzino, Carracci, Zurbarán , Murillo, Sustermanns and van Dyck. This painter did not experience justice until 1995, when her work was presented to the public for the first time under her name in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The same happened with Leonardo da Vinci, whose works were wrongly assigned to his students like Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516) or later Italian artists like Cariani (1480 / 90-1547). Unlike Sofonisba Anguisciola, justice has not yet been done to him. For example, Leonardo's self-portrait (fig. 2), which is in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, is still ascribed to Cariani, although the fashion of the sitter - as any professional will confirm - for the 1970s and early 1980s of the 15th century is characteristic. Cariani may not even have seen the light of day at this point.

Around 1483, the Milanese court painter Leonardo da Vinci portrayed the 14-year-old Duke Gian Galeazzo II. Maria Sforza as Saint Sebastian, who was his favorite saint (Fig. 3, Fig. 4). The portrait "Fig. 3" is now attributed to his pupil Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, who at that time was only 16 years old, the portrait "Fig. 4" to his colleague Ambrogio de Predis. The latter is probably a collaboration between Ambrogio de Predis and Leonardo da Vinci. In addition, Boltraffio did not join Leonardo's painter's workshop as an apprentice or journeyman until 1491, eight years after the portrait was made. When will art historians finally correct these mistakes?

Reading tips:

Historical fact 1:

Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci drew the portrait of a woman named "Mona Lisa".

However, Frank Zöllner and Giuseppe Pallanti made a big mistake in their search for this woman, because they "merged" the biographies of two cousins ​​with the same name "Francesco del Giocondo" into the biography of a single person. One of these Francesco del Giocondos saw the light of day on March 19, 1465 as the youngest son of Bartolomeo del Giocondo. He died in 1538. On March 5, 1495, he married a certain Lisa Gherardini, who was born in 1479 in Via Maggio in Florence as the daughter of the Florentine Antonio Maria di Noldo Gherardini. She was meanwhile his second (according to Pallanti) or third (according to customs officer) wife. From his first marriage to a certain Camilla Rucellai, who died in 1494, he already had a son who, according to Renaissance tradition, was named after his paternal grandfather Bartolomeo. Lisa Gherardini gave her husband, as we can see from his will of June 29, 1537 and the information from Giuseppe Pallanti, at least five more children, the sons Pietro, Andrea and Giocondo and two daughters, Camilla, who in 1518 as "sister Beatrice "died in the monastery of San Domenico di Cafaggio, and a daughter who lived as a nun under the name" Sister Ludovica "in 1537 in the monastery of Sant'Orsola and died in 1579. According to Pallanti, the last time we heard from Lisa Gherardini was in 1539; according to the customs officer, she died after 1551.

For many years, Frank Zöllner in particular told us again and again that Lisa Gherardini was the "Mona Lisa", of whom Leonardo da Vinci had made a portrait drawing. However, a reference from 1503, which was discovered by Armin Schlechter and made known worldwide by Veit Probst, has proven that Lisa Gherardini cannot be the said "Mona Lisa". We find the following very important communication in Armin Schlechter's reference: "Apelles pictor. Ita Leonardus Vincius facit in omnibus suis picturis, ut enim caput Lise del Giocondo et Anne matris virginis. Videbimus, quid faciet de aula magni consilii, de qua re convenit iam cum vexillifero. 1503 Octobris. "(= The painter Apelles. This is what Leonardo da Vinci does in all of his paintings, such as the head of the Lisa del Giocondo and Anna, the virgin's mother. We shall see what he will do about the large council chamber, which he has just agreed on with the gonfaloniere. October 1503).

As everyone can now read, the "Mona Lisa" is not Lisa Gherardini, but a certain Lisa del Giocondo! To do this, however, you have to know what escaped Messrs Frank Zöllner, Giuseppe Pallanti, Armin Schlechter and Veit Probst, that it was only after Protestantism was able to establish itself as an alternative religion alongside Catholicism, in the second half of the 16th century The Protestant countries gradually naturalized that women had to give up the last piece of identity when they got married, namely their surname. In Catholic countries such as Belgium and Spain, women were always allowed to keep their surnames. In Italy, the name change was only introduced in the 1970s (Art. 143 to Cognome della moglie: La moglie aggiunge al proprio cognome quello del marito e lo conserva durante lo stato vedovile, fino a che passi a nuove nozze). In all important documents, such as the passport and driver's license, for example, the woman is still noted with her own surname, which she has had since she was born, and not with the surname of her husband.

There is not a single woman who, in the first half of the 16th century, lost her last name, which she has had since she was born, through marriage. Lisa Gherardini had not given up her last name even after her marriage. It was part of her identity. As the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, she was also called Lisa Gherardini and never Lisa del Giocondo. So who is this "Lisa del Giocondo"? The answer can be found in a family tree that was added to Giuseppe Pallanti's book "Mona Lisa Revealed - The True Identity of Leonardo's Model, Milan 2006". "Lisa del Giocondo" is a sister of the aforementioned Francesco del Giocondo, a sister-in-law of Lisa Gherardini, who saw the light of day in 1468 and was already 35 when Leonardo da Vinci drew her portrait Was years old and is therefore already a candidate for the lady in the Louvre in terms of age. Presumably she was married to her second cousin "Francesco del Giocondo", who can also be found in contemporary sources under the first name Piero Francesco or Pierfrancesco. This "Francesco del Giocondo", who was also a merchant and silk merchant, was again born in 1460 and died according to Jean Richter in 1512, according to customs officer in 1528. We can also see from the information from Pallanti and customs officer that Lisa del Giocondo gave her husband at least two daughters, a daughter whose name has not been passed down and who died in June 1499, and a certain Marietta and a son Piero. For example, on page 60 of Pallanti we read the following: "... in 1496 she gave birth to a son who was named Piero after his paternal grandfather". This also gives us the name of the father of this second "Francesco del Giocondo": Piero del Giocondo, who could be a legitimate or illegitimate son of Paolo del Giocondo.

Conclusion: Giorgio Vasari made no mistake. In his great work he does not describe the portrait of the famous lady in the Louvre, Isabella of Aragon, but the portrait of the Florentine merchant wife Lisa del Giocondo, which is only a drawing of a head, presumably without hair. There is a good chance that this head drawing is still in the Louvre, in one of the many storage rooms. However, it was assigned to a false painter by art historians, just as many works by Leonardo da Vinci are still assigned to his favorite student Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, his friend Raphael and his colleagues Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cariani.

Book review:

  • Donald Sassoon: Mona Lisa - The History of the World's most famous Painting. London 2001 - The new work by Donald Sassoon "Leonardo and the Mona Lisa Story: The History of a Painting Told in Pictures", published in 2006, is very disappointing. It shows that the author has no idea of ​​the story of the Renaissance and the emblems and symbols of the high dynasties of this interesting historical epoch, has not taken the slightest time to fill his vast knowledge gap before publishing his next book. Accordingly, little worth knowing can be expected from his new book!

Historical fact 2:

The portrait drawing of Mona Lisa, which is Lisa del Giocondo and not her sister-in-law Lisa Gherardini, was made in 1503 by Leonardo da Vinci, whom his contemporaries - as Macchiavelli put it - considered the best painter in Italy.

This information can be found in the important work of the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) (Fig. 6), the “Life stories of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects of the Renaissance”, which was first published in Florence in 1550 has been. A second, improved edition followed in 1568. Giorgio Vasari, who had never met Leonardo da Vinci in person, visited to get first-hand information about the person, Francesco da Melzo, who had lived at the side of the great master .

We read the following about the portrait drawing of the Mona Lisa, which he presumably saw there or taken from the notes of Francesco da Melzo: “Leonardo also undertook to paint the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife, for Francesco del Giocondo. He spent four years on it, then left it unfinished and it is today at Fontainebleau, owned by King Francis of France. Anyone who wanted to see how far it was possible for art to imitate nature recognized it from this beautiful head. All the little things were shown in the finest detail, the eyes had shine and moisture, as we see it in life; All around one noticed the reddish blue circles and the eyelashes, which only the most delicate brush can do; in the browbones you could see where they are most full and where they are most sparse, how they emerge from the pores of the skin and bulge, as naturally as can be imagined. The fine openings on the nose were rosy and delicately reproduced in the most faithful way, the mouth, where the lips close and where the red unites with the color of the face, had a perfection that it was not like painted, but actually like flesh and blood appeared; whoever looked carefully at the pit of the neck believed to see the beating of the pulses; in short, one can say that this picture was executed in a manner which made every excellent artist and everyone who saw it tremble. The Mona Lisa was very beautiful and Leonardo still needed the care that while he was painting someone had to be present at all times to sing, play and joke, so that she would stay cheerful and not get a sad look, as is often the case when you sit to have your portrait painted. On the other hand, a smile so lovely hovered over this face that it seemed more of a heavenly than of a human hand, and it was considered admirable because it was completely equal to life. " (in: Giorgio Vasari: Life stories of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects of the Renaissance, Zurich 1980, pp. 245-247).

Anyone who compares Vasari's statements regarding the face of the Mona Lisa with the face of our “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre will not find anything in common except for the lovely smile that adorns so many women's heads in Leonardo's works. Our “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre is missing the brows, the eyelashes and the rosy nostrils, and moreover, Leonardo did not seem to have put much care into the pit of her neck.

Vasari also described the portrait of Mona Lisa in 1568 as "unfinished", i.e. That is, the drawing never turned into a finished oil painting. Today's art historians accuse Vasari of not having been well informed in this case. However, they cannot provide any sources for their assertion. And what do you think of the fact that Vasari also called another very well-known work by the great master, namely “The Adoration of the Magi”, “unfinished”, which - as everyone can see - was in fact never completed (Fig . 7)? This is how we read from Vasari: “A tablet with the Adoration of the Magi was started by this master; there is much beauty in it, especially on heads; it stood opposite the Peruzzi loggia in Amerigo Benci's house, but remained unfinished ... " (in: Vasari, ibid, p. 240).

Another portrait drawing that Leonardo da Vinci made of Lucrezia Borgia in 1498 shows what the style of representation of Mona Lisa might have looked like (Fig. 8). But in contrast to the drawing by Lucrezia Borgia, the drawing of Mona Lisa was only a head or a face without hair.

The motivation of Francesco del Giocondo (1460-1528) to commission a portrait of himself and his wife Lisa del Giocondo from the great master is not known. We can, however, expect that Lisa del Giocondo wanted to have herself portrayed in her husband's most precious and colorful silk fabrics. In contrast to her, the lady who bears her name in the Louvre was in the second phase of a period of mourning.The former had already taken off the deep black that was required for nine months after the death of a close relative, but it still shows itself in the subtle colors brown, beige and dark green and also does not need to wear jewelry (Fig. 9)

Reading tips:

  • Giorgio Vasari: Lives of Seventy of the most eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Edited and annotated in the light of recent discoveris by E.H. and E. W. Blashfield and A. A. Hopkins. London 1897 (for me personally the best edition of Giorgio Vasari's work)
  • Giorgio Vasari: Life stories of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects of the Renaissance, Zurich 1980 (shortened edition)

Speculation 2:

Leonardo's father, Ser Piero da Vinci, appeared as an advocate for the silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, or more correctly Piero Francesco del Giocondo.

Without Ser Piero da Vinci, the portrait drawing of Mona Lisa and probably also that of the silk merchant - it was customary in the Renaissance to be represented as a couple in two individual portraits - would never have been made by Leonardo da Vinci. According to the statements of a certain Anonimo Gaddiano, Leonardo allegedly only made the portrait of Francesco del Giocondo. This contemporary of the great painter knew nothing of a portrait of his wife.

Leonardo da Vinci rarely painted portraits outside his family after 1500. There is therefore very much to suggest that this speculation 2 is the truth. Ser Piero da Vinci had also known the silk merchant and his brothers and cousins ​​for many years, because he had worked for them as a notary. When Leonardo's father died in 1504 at the age of 75, there was no one left who could force the great master to complete the portrait of Mona Lisa. Therefore - as his contemporaries report - it remained unfinished.

Historical fact 3:

The portrait drawing of Mona Lisa came into the possession of the French King Francis I between 1524 and 1547.

After the portrait of Mona Lisa was created in 1503, contemporary sources are silent about its whereabouts for 21 years. We do not know whether Leonardo da Vinci took this drawing to France around 1517. In the travel diary of Antonio de ’Beatis, the secretary of Cardinal Louis of Aragon, who visited Leonardo da Vinci together with his employer on October 10, 1517, only the following three pictures of the master were mentioned: “One by a certain Florentine lady, painted from the life created at the instigation of Her late glory Giuliano de’ Medici, another by the youthful Saint John the Baptist; the third from the Madonna and Child, who is on Saint Anne's lap - the latter was the most perfect of all. " (in: Ludwig Goldscheider: Leonardo da Vinci. London and New York 19442, P. 20 and in: L. Beltrami, op.cit., P. 149 in: Luca: Documenti e Memorie riguardanti la vita e le Opere di Leonardo da Vinci, Milan 1919).

While Leonardo da Vinci's works “Saint Anna Selbdritt” (Fig. 10) and “John the Baptist” (Fig. 11) are easy to identify among the pictures mentioned, Beatis' remark is that the third painting is a portrait of a Florentine woman, which the artist painted at the express instruction of Giuliano de 'Medici, is not particularly helpful for us. In theory, it could either be Pacifica Brandano, with whom Giuliano de 'Medici had a son named Ippolito, or a certain Isabella Gualanda. Only Beati's entry the next day clarifies this question: It is a portrait of Isabella Gualanda.

Even before Leonardo's death on May 2, 1519, this portrait painting came into the possession of the French King Francis I for 4,000 gold crowns. Before Francesco da Melzo, the main heir and elder son of the great master, left France, the French king bought another one from him Leonardo da Vinci's work for 4,000 gold crowns. In this case we do not know which picture it may have been. However, it was certainly not “Saint Anna Selbdritt”, “John the Baptist” or the portrait drawing of Mona Lisa.

“Saint Anne Selbdritt” and “John the Baptist” did not come into the possession of the French kings Louis XIII until 1636 and 1661, respectively. or Louis XIV, and the portrait drawing of the Mona Lisa was in the possession of Salaì after the death of Leonardo da Vinci. In the case of the latter, the contemporary sources do not allow any other conclusion than that he was a close relative of Leonardo's, presumably an illegitimate half-brother.

When Salaì died in January 1524, the portrait drawing of the Mona Lisa was listed in a court inventory as in his possession. As an inheritance, it passed to one of his two full- or half-sisters, Angelina or Lorenziola Caprotti, who sold the drawing to Francesco da Melzo. Through the latter, like so many other works by the great master, she finally came to France. The portrait of Mona Lisa is presumably still in one of the many French archives that contain pictures and drawings that are not on display, and is waiting to be rediscovered!

Be sure to read the excellent work of art historians Janice Shell and Grazioso Sironi: Salaì and Leonardo’s legacy, in: The Burlington Magazine, February 1991, pp. 95-108

Further reading tips:

  • R. J. Knecht: Renaissance Warrior and Patron - The Reign of Francis I. Cambridge 1994
  • Robert Payne: Leonardo. London 1978

Historical fact 4:

The lady, who can be found in the Louvre today under the name "Mona Lisa", was listed under this title for the first time in an inventory of the French King Louis XIII. conducted in 1625.

We do not know when the most famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, which can be admired today in the Louvre as the "Mona Lisa", passed into the possession of the French kings. In 1625, however, it was already in Fontainebleau, where it was given the title "Gioconda" by a certain Cassiano dal Pozzo, who was supposed to draw up an inventory. A colleague of the latter who had been entrusted with the same task, however, labeled the portrait "courtesan". In 1625 all information about this lady seemed to have been lost. However, the title “Mona Lisa” had not yet become universally accepted with regard to this portrait.

Ultimately, the French art collector and dealer of old works, Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774), was considered by his contemporaries as the authority In terms of art, it was considered responsible for the fatal mistake of recognizing the merchant's wife "Mona Lisa" in the portrait painting of the Milanese Duchess Isabella of Aragon. He knew that the portrait of the Florentine merchant's wife had never been completed, and yet he declared the portrait oil painting of the Duchess of Milan to be the drawing of "Mona Lisa", claiming that the contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci were unfinished where it was "perfect" in his opinion. Of course, the portrait of the Duchess of Milan was “perfect”, because it was no longer a drawing, but a finished oil painting! But nobody dared to criticize him. Finally he was the authority! By constantly repeating this statement by Pierre-Jean Mariette, the Milanese Duchess Isabella of Aragon has now generally become the "Mona Lisa" business woman. Unfortunately, once mistakes, errors, rumors and lies have been accepted by us, they are almost "ineradicable"!

Under the French King Louis XIV, we find this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci in his favorite palace, Versailles. After the French Revolution towards the end of the 18th century, the Louvre was already "Mona Lisa's" new home. However, it was removed from here at the request of the French Emperor Napoleon, who wanted to decorate the wall of his bedroom with the enchanting smile of the beautiful stranger. After his exile on the island of Helena, “Mona Lisa” returned to the Louvre, where she could be found without interruption until 1911.

Under Napoleon, Leonardo's masterpiece was allegedly reduced by about 10 cm on its left and right side, as it did not fit into his desired picture frame. Its dimensions would then have been only 77 x 53 cm. In addition, the columns to the left and right of "Mona Lisa" would have disappeared during this process (in: Richard Friedenthal: Leonardo da Vinci, London 1959, p. 109) (Fig. 12). However, a group of 39 experts discovered in 2005 that the version that hangs in the Louvre today was never cropped. But where is the cropped copy of "Mona Lisa" that adorned Napoleon's bedroom?

On August 21, 1911, “Mona Lisa” finally made its first big headlines, because it was on that day that a certain Vincenzo Peruggia, an insignificant picture painter (or, according to another source, a house painter) disguised himself as an ordinary worker, stolen from the Louvre in broad daylight among hundreds of visitors. The thief kept the masterpiece hidden in his attic in Paris for two years, until in 1913 he was able to smuggle it to Italy in a parcel hidden under clothing and equipment. When he tried to sell his valuable goods to the antiques and art dealer Alfredo Geri in Florence, he was finally arrested. In court he declared that he only wanted to bring this Italian masterpiece back to his true homeland, namely Italy. He received a twelve-month prison sentence for his theft. “Mona Lisa” returned to the Louvre in January 1914 after a major state ceremony staged by the Italian government when it was handed over to the French envoys.

In 1956, Leonardo's most important painting was also subjected to two attacks. In the first case, the lower half of the picture was badly damaged by acid, and in the second, on December 30th, a Bolivian visitor named Ugo Ungaza Villegas threw a stone at the portrait. These hostile attacks only seemed to be conducive to the fame of the “Mona Lisa”, because in the 1960s and 1970s Leonardo's masterpiece was exhibited in New York, Tokyo and Moscow. Today, for safety reasons, “Mona Lisa” can only be viewed from behind thick armored glass, which, however, does not in the least prevent her followers from wanting to take a look at her.

Speculation 3:

The lady in the Louvre is Pacifica Brandano or Brandani.

Since October 2009 there is now another candidate for the lady in the Louvre. According to the Italian historian Roberto Zapperi, she is said to be Pacifica Brandano or Brandani, who had been the lover of Giuliano de 'Medici (1479-1516) for several years and who gave him his illegitimate son, the future Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici ( 1511-1535), gave birth. Probably Roberto Zapperi feared that hardly anyone would be interested in his research on Pacifica Brandano. So Leonardo da Vinci and "Mona Lisa" had to serve again. In any case, this is the only way to explain why he made the unscientific claim that the lady in the Louvre was Pacifica Brandano. In Antonio de Beatis' travel diary we find the following entry on October 10, 1517: “From Tours, where he [his employer, Cardinal Luigi of Aragon] Stayed the whole of the ninth of the month, in the afternoon he drove to Amboise, seven miles away, a very small place, but cheerful and well located ... In one of the villages the gentleman visited with us the knife Leonardo Vinci from Florence, who was over seventy years old old, most outstanding painters of our time [Leonardo was 65 years old], who showed his highborn three paintings: one of a certain Florentine woman, painted after life on the instruction of Her late glory Giuliano de 'Medici, the other shows Saint John the Baptist when he was young, and another of a figure of Mary and a child, both of whom are sitting on St. Anne's lap: they were all extremely perfect. However, one can no longer expect a good work from him, because he has a paralysis on his right hand [after his stroke at the beginning of 1516] .... “(in: Leonardo da Vinci - A biography in testimonies, personal testimonies, documents and pictures. Edited and commented by Marianne Schneider, Munich 2002, p. 263)

If we only had this message, there would be a whole series of women that Leonardo could have painted at Giuliano de 'Medici's request, e.g. one of his three sisters, Lucrezia, Maddalena and Contessina, or his wife Filiberta of Savoy or one of his two well-known mistresses, Pacifica Brandano or Isabella Gualanda. Of course, it could also be a lady who was not mentioned in contemporary sources or whose documents have been lost over the centuries. The additional term “certain Florentine” means that the lady was either a native Florentine and / or lived at the side of Giuliano de 'Medici in Florence. And so Pacifica Brandano is excluded from the outset as a possible candidate. Because she called Urbino her home and was only there the lover of Giuliano de 'Medici. So she was neither a native Florentine nor did she live with her lover in Florence. The answer as to who the unknown lady is comes from Antonio de Beatis himself. On October 11, 1517, he sees a portrait of a lady from Lombardy in the castle of Blois and compares it with the portrait he painted one day had seen before, and that's when the name comes up: Isabella Gualanda: "There was also an oil painting there, painted from life, by a certain lady from Lombardy: a beautiful woman indeed, but in my opinion less beautiful than Signoria Isabella Gualanda" (in: The Travel Journal of Antonio de Beatis - Germany, Switzerland, the Low Countries, France and Italy, 1517-1518. Translated from the Italian by JR Hale and JMA Lindon. Edited by JRHale. London 1979, pp. 133- 134).

Historical fact 5:

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - at least until the first half of the 16th century - the high and low nobles defined themselves through their coats of arms, emblems, symbols and colors. They used these to decorate their portraits. Thus, knowing the coats of arms, emblems, symbols and colors - the tool of historians - is the only key to identifying the people in the portraits of the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact, members of the high nobility are very easy to identify for historians familiar with the Renaissance dynasties, the history of fashion, and the history of coats of arms, emblems, symbols, and colors.

The heralds, highly respected in the Middle Ages, were able to identify the nobles hidden under their heavy armor solely on the basis of their coats of arms, which adorned the shield, the horse's saddlecloth, the lance, the fighter's robe and possibly also the pot helmet (Fig . 13 and Fig. 14).

These coats of arms, which had become hereditary in France towards the end of the 11th century, developed into a permanent family symbol in the 13th century. Heralds, who were trained in heraldry after a long apprenticeship of 7 - 8 years, were able to assign a special gender to each coat of arms on the basis of their books.

The high nobles towards the end of the 15th century and in the first half of the 16th century could only rarely be represented with their coats of arms. They now preferred to use their emblems, symbols and colors in their portraits (Fig. 15, Fig. 16, Fig. 17 and Fig. 18). Some coats of arms have survived to this day. The Milanese car company Alfa Romeo adorns itself with the coats of arms of the powerful Visconti (-Sforza), who determined the fortunes of the Duchy of Milan from the 13th to the 16th century (Fig. 19 and Fig. 20).

Reading tips:

Historical fact 6:

In his portrait paintings, Leonardo da Vinci also used their emblems or symbols to identify the sitter.

Historical fact 7:

The "Mona Lisa" in the Louvre shows emblems of the Milanese house of the Visconti-Sforza on the upper part of her robe.

In his most famous portrait painting, Leonardo da Vinci also gives us an important clue as to who the person depicted is. So we find emblems on the border of the green satin dress of the depicted, which identify them as a member of the famous Milanese dynasty (Fig. 22). The chain of interconnected circles represents an emblem of the Sforza, while the intertwined ribbons or bows were used as a symbol for the close connection between the Visconti and their successors, the Sforza.Leonardo da Vinci also adorned the ceiling of Milan's main castle, Castello Sforzesco, with the latter badge (Fig. 23).

There are 13 candidates who belonged to the Milanese ruling house of the Visconti-Sforza, who theoretically could have been portrayed by Leonardo da Vinci in the years 1483 to 1499. They are Bona von Savoyen and her two daughters Bianca Maria and Anna Maria, Angela Sforza and her sister Ippolita, Caterina Sforza and her sister Chiara, Maddalena Sforza, Bianca Sforza, Camilla Sforza, Bona Sforza, Isabella von Aragon and Beatrice d'Este.

Reading tips:

  • D.S. Chambers: Patrons and Artists in the Italian Renaissance. Columbia, South Carolina 1971
  • Michael Dummett: The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards. New York 1986
  • Richard A. Goldthwaite: Wealth and Demand for Art in Italy 1300-1600. Baltimore and London 1993
  • Millard Meiss and Edith W. Kirsch: The Visconti Hours. London 1972
  • Gertrude Moakley: The Tarot Cards painted by Bonifacio Bembo. New York 1966

Historical fact 8:

In the Duchy of Milan in the 14th and 15th centuries, only the Milanese princesses were allowed to be represented as Saint Mary and the main saint of their duchy, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who held the highest position as female members of this family. If Milanese princesses married abroad, they were all ultimately allowed to be immortalized as the main saints of their dynasties.

The faces of the powerful rulers of Milan, the Visconti and the Sforza, and their family members have been shown to adorn the faces of the saints since the end of the 13th century. A strict hierarchy determined which saint or saints one could be depicted as. For example, only the Duchesses of Milan (or the women of the Visconti-Sforza, who occupied the highest position in the Duchy of Milan) had the right to be represented as Saint Mary with the child and as Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Duchy of Milan. Of the 13 candidates above, this only applied to Isabella of Aragon, who is in fact the one who immortalized Leonardo da Vinci in his masterpiece.

Please have a look at the following websites: Isabella of Aragon and The Sforza, The Aragonese of Naples and The Visconti

Historical fact 9:

The original of this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, which shows the young Duchess Isabella of Aragon from Milan, was created between May and August 1489. Isabella, who lost her mother Ippolita Maria Sforza in August 1488, shows herself in the second phase of her mourning period. The portrait was painted in the castle of Pavia.

Historical fact 10:

Leonardo da Vinci was the court painter of the Sforza for 17 or 18 years. Isabella of Aragon has been his employer since she moved into the Duchy of Milan at the beginning of 1489. As source material shows, Leonardo became one of her closest friends. It is even possible to use contemporary sources to prove that Isabella and Leonardo entered into a secret marriage in 1497 (Fig. 24). I would like to quote Joanne K. Rowling: "It was one of those rare occasions when the real story is even more outrageous and exciting than the wildest rumors." (in: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). Her eldest daughter Johanna (or Giovanna) (1502-1575) (Fig. 25) was a great celebrity in her time because of her beauty and courage.


P.S .: The art historians have once again dared to spread utter nonsense all over the world with the help of gullible journalists. So I read yesterday, on September 28, 2006, that Michel Menu, Director of the French Museum Center for Research and Restoration, claimed that "Mona Lisa" wears a veil that for her time on pregnant women and young mothers who had just given birth to a child would have been typical. I could not find this headdress in a single historical source, nor in any picture of a pregnant woman or a young mother. Has the art historians' imagination run wild again?

P.S. 2: You have certainly also read the latest article about "Mona Lisa", which was distributed throughout Germany by the "dpa": Mona Lisa's grave found. Do not forget that Mr. Pallantini is looking for the merchant's wife Lisa Gherardini and not for the woman who can be found in Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait painting "Mona Lisa"!

P.S. 3: The "Mona Lisa" saga continues. Now the director of the Heidelberg University Library, Mr. Veit Probst, would like to contribute something on the subject of "Mona Lisa", and of course the lady in the Louvre is once again the merchant Lisa Gherardini (whoever else, all the other candidates require historical knowledge, which unfortunately also not exist with Mr. Probst). And as with the art historians and Mr. Pallanti, a written source was sufficient for Mr. Probst, which does not contain any reference to the merchant's wife Lisa Gherardini, but to her sister-in-law Lisa del Giocondo, to establish a (scientific) connection between this and the painting in the Louvre to manufacture. Again: Nobody denies that the merchant women Lisa Gherardini and Lisa del Giocondo existed and that Leonardo da Vinci made a drawing (not an oil painting) of the latter in 1503. But she is not the lady who can be found under her name in the Louvre. Who that is is written on the painting in the form in which information was given throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in the form of emblems and symbols belonging to the ruling house of which the sitter was a member .


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