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Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales: A Book Review

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
Author: Dianne Hales
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 336
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Everybody knows her smile, but no one knows her story: Meet the woman who became the most recognized artistic subject of all time--Mona Lisa.

     Florence’s Most Famous Daughter is virtually invisible in her own hometown. No plaques commemorate where she lived; no monuments or streets bear her name. Yet a genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Hers was the city that thrills us still, home to larger-than-legend figures such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. But all that remains of Lisa is her smile.

     Intrigued by new findings confirming the identity of Leonardo's model, Dianne Hales began a personal quest to unearth the story of Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo. She combed archives for fragile records, walked the squalid street where Lisa was born, explored her neighborhoods, met her descendants, and ventured into many of Florence’s oldest and most beautiful palazzi. The result is a fascinating blend of biography, history, and memoir--a tour of Florence like no other and a journey of discovery that re-creates Lisa’s daily life in a time poised between the medieval and the modern, in a vibrant city bursting into fullest bloom, and in a culture that redefined the possibilities of man--and of woman.

     My review: Mona Lisa’s smile has captured the imaginations of millions of people over the centuries. She is such a part of our everyday popular culture that the woman herself is often forgotten about. This biography is about the life of the model of Mona Lisa, Lisa Gherardini. Her life is just as mysterious as a painting because she is a face without a voice. However, the conclusion is that Mona Lisa is an everyday Renaissance woman who represents a woman of virtue.

     Because there are so very few facts about Lisa Gherardini, the author has taken great challenge to find out about her life. Through her meticulous research to uncover the woman behind the painting, we get a glimpse of who the real Mona Lisa might have been. She was an impoverished aristocrat who married a wealthy man and had six children. Her husband, Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint her portrait. Lisa is a woman who is virtuous and who raised her children. She is also portrayed as being devoutly religious for she sent her two daughters into a nunnery and chose to be buried in a convent. She is also portrayed as being a survivor of the turbulent times of Florence.

     The author does a great job of describing Florence Renaissance everyday life. She describes the dangerous times in Florence and the power struggle of the Medici family that ruled there. I also found the descriptions of Renaissance art very fascinating. I like Leonardo da Vinci’s rivalry with Michelangelo, for I liked how the two famous artists were jealous of the other. I also liked the part of Leonardo’s work on the Mona Lisa, for even though he procrastinated he was very dedicated to his painting.

      Overall, the Mona Lisa was a symbol of a Renaissance woman’s virtue.  While the author’s writing is very comprehensive, sometimes she tends to jump from subject to subject and is sometimes hard to follow, Many times I would have to go back a few pages and re-read it to understand. However, I think she has a good description of Renaissance Florence. I also like how she describes how Mona Lisa has become a popular icon over the centuries. I recommend this novel to not only anyone interested in the Mona Lisa, but also in travel, art, and the Renaissance. This book is a tribute not only to Lisa Gherardini herself, but also to the women who lived in Florence during the Renaissance.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is the author talking about her book, Mona Lisa. In this video there are five facts about the real Mona Lisa that you may not know: 

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