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Mona Lisa, by Dianne Hales.

May 13, 2014

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, by Dianne Hales.  Simon & Schuster (August, 2014), Hardcover, 336 pages.

A personal account of the author’s search for information about the life of the Florentine woman who was the model for Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Diane Hales is a freelance journalist who has written widely on health, psychology, and her own love of the Italian language. While not a scholar of Italian art or of history, her knowledge of both is extensive. When she became curious about the woman whom we know as Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa, she set out to discover all she could about her.  This book is an account of what she learned and how she learned it.

The woman was Lisa Gheradini, the wife of a fifteenth-century Florentine merchant involved in international trade. She raised six children, ran her family’s home, and turned to religion in her later life. Hales read extensively trying to flesh out the woman’s life.  Fluent in Italian, Hales stayed in Florence, walking the streets and visiting the places Lisa knew.  She conferred with experts in Italian history and in Renaissance art.  The result is a book that brings together a great deal of information, not only about de Vinci and his subject, but about a variety of other topics which are only vaguely connected to them.   Hales relates the complicated history of Florence since its mythical beginning.  The ancestry of both Lisa and her husband are traced, as well as that of de Vinic and of various individuals who lived during or shortly before Lisa’s time.  Despite all the research it contains, the book’s mood is subjective and impressionistic.  For example, Hales describes herself  walking down the streets that Lisa might walked, imaging what Lisa might have worn, what toys she played with as a child, and why de Vinci portrayed her as he did, adding a nice layer of narrative.

Although this is not a scholarly book, readers most likely to enjoy the book are those with some background of their own in the Italian history, art and language.

I am grateful to have received an ebook copy of this book.

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