The Tale of La Gioconda

The name La Gioconda or Lisa Gheradini would not have found a place in the history books, but for a famous painting. Her painting has been a point of discussion and her smile has left the art connoisseurs bamboozled for centuries. Yes, we are talking about the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, well known as Mona Lisa.

Isleworth Mona Lisa

Portrait of Lisa Gheradini that Leonardo delivered to Francesco

Now, coming to the history of the painting, Leonardo was commissioned by the wealthy businessman Francesco del Gioconda to draw a portrait for his beloved wife Lisa Gheradini. Leonardo got on with the job and started painting the portrait of this beautiful 24 year old lady. It is learnt that Leonardo started the painting in 1503. But due to some unknown reasons, Leonardo became overtly obsessed with her. He used to visit her every day and continued working on the painting for many years. No matter what Leonardo painted, he felt justice was not done. Somehow the strokes were not enough to justify the beauty of Lisa. Time was running out and the patience of Francesco too. So, Leonardo had to give up his quest for perfection. It is learned that Leonardo handed over an unfinished painting to the couple. The portrait was named La Gioconda.

Leonardo da Vinci as Youth

Leonardo da Vinci was Commissioned to Paint a Portrait of Lisa Gheradini


Time went by, and fifteen years later the French King Francis I purchased a portrait that was similar to the one Leonardo had spent so much time over. The only difference was that this was finished. This was smaller in size than the original La Gioconda painting. When the painting was tested in 2004, there were no signs of trimming observed on it. One of marked differences between both the paintings was the presence of columns in the background of the subject on either side in La Gioconda and absence of it in the King’s painting. The subject in the painting looked a woman in the thirties rather than one in her twenties. Since 1797 the painting acquired by King Francis I has found a place in the Louvre Museum of Paris and it is famously known as Mona Lisa. In fact, Mona in Italian is a common way of addressing a woman with dignity similar to Madam. So, Mona Lisa could be translated as Madam Lisa.

Mona Lisa at Louvre Museum

Mona Lisa Painting at Louvre Museum in Paris


The mystery is: if this was not the painting Leonardo had been commissioned for, then how did this painting exist. It is not uncommon for famous artists to ponder over their work long after they are done with it. Leonardo was a perfectionist and he might have given repeated tries to paint Madam Lisa perfectly and at last he succeeded. The finished painting somehow made its way to the French Palace. In fact, a medieval historian named Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo mentioned in one his works that Leonardo had made a pair of similar paintings. The book was edited by an ardent Leonardo admirer Don Carlos Emmanuelle, so there could not be any mistakes or misprint.

Two Paintings of Mona Lisa

Facial Comparison between two Mona Lisa Paintings. On the Left is Mona Lisa of Louvre Museum and on the Right is Isleworth Mona Lisa or the first painting by Leonardo


So, where did the original La Gioconda go? Just before the outbreak of World War I an English collector discovered an unfinished painting at the home of a friend in Somerset. To his surprise the painting was an exact replica of the famous Mona Lisa painting with a prominent background and couple of pillars. The woman in the painting looked much younger than Mona Lisa. He took it to his studio in Isleworth. It remained there anonymous, until recently it was unveiled in Singapore under the name Isleworth Mona Lisa. This was in fact the real La Gioconda painting.


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