Mona Lisa Model – Researchers have confirmed that Lisa Gheradini, aka Lisa del Giocondo, was the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, after a handwritten notation by Agostino Vespucci – cousin of famed explorer Amerigo Vespucci and secretary to Niccolo Machiavelli - was found in a 1503 manuscript.

Mona Lisa model was Lisa del Giocondo

Experts at the Heidelberg University Library say dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book by its owner, Agostino Vespucci, in October 1503 confirm once and for all that Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, was the Mona Lisa model.

Notes about Mona Lisa model by Agostino Vespucci

Agostino Vespucci was the secretary to Niccolo Machiavelli, the author of the classic political treatise “The Prince” who befriended Leonardo DaVinci in 1502 while both da Vinci and Machiavelli spent several months at the home of Cesare Borgia (yes, that Cesare Borgia).

Portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli

Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli first met at the court of Cesare Borgia – the son of Pope Alexander VI who schemed against the powerful Florence-based Medici clan. For different reasons, each was in residence at Borgia’s palace from October, 1502 through the end of that year. Da Vinci had taken a position as Borgia’s military architect and engineer.

Newly returned from Farnce where head negotiated terms with King Louis XII for continuing the war against Pisa, Niccolo Machiavelli, second chancellor of the government of Florence, was on another diplomatic mission to keep an eye on the unscrupulous Cesare Borgia.

Cesare Borgia

Machiavelli was a great admirer of Borgia’s political machinations, making them the subject of several chapters in The Prince.

Da Vinci had also been placed on retainer by Cesare Borgia to inspect and direct all planned and undergoing construction in his domain, which had ben greatly increased by his father, Pope Alexander VI.

Agostino Vespucci was there as well, handling Machiavelli’s numerous correspondence on critical matters where important information could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Correspondence at that time could literally be a matter of life and death, where a misworded missive intercepted by one’s enemies could readily bring charges of religious heresy or treason.

As Machiavelli wrote later in life, “For some time now I have never said what I believe nor ever believed what I said; and if indeed I do sometimes tell the truth, I hide it behind so many lies that it is hard to find.”

In early 1503, all three men were back in Florence, working together on what turned out to be a magnificent failure, a monumental effort to divert the mighty Arno River so that Florence could win it’s 10-year battle with it’s arch-enemy, the powerful city of Pisa.

Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa Model Backstory

In early 1503, da Vinci was painting an immense fresco – The Battle of Anghiari – in the Great Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio, under a princely commission arranged by Machiavelli. Da Vinci was also working on the side doing a commissioned portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a local merchant, Franceso del Giocondo.

It was October 1503 when Agostino Vespucci wrote dated notes in the margins of a book he owned recording that Lisa del Giocondo was indeed the model for the famous Mona Lisa.

Vespucci’s comments compare Leonardo to the ancient Greek artist Apelles and say that he was working on three paintings at the time, one of them a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo that became the world’s most valuable painting, the Mona Lisa.

The dated notes were discovered by academic Armin Schlechter, “allowing us to establish more precisely the year the painting was done and to definitively confirm” the generally accepted theory about the identity of da Vinci’s model for the Mona Lisa, Heidelberg University scholar Veit Probst said in a statement.

Most of the other projects on which Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli collaborated on between 1502 and 1506 were failures. The ditches intended to divert the Arno River at Pisa collapsed because of a combination of incompetence by the ditch-digging crews and bad luck with a heavy spring flood.

The Arno River project was abandoned amid severe recriminations and criticism of its cost, ending any hope of implementing Leonardo’s broader plan to make Florence a seaport and thwarting Machiavelli’s plan to gain power by becoming the one to conquer Pisa.

The public fresco commissioned by Machiavelli was also a disaster – an experimental painting technique used by da Vinci caused the fresco’s paint to run – and eventually the whole mess was painted over by another artist.

Machiavelli did play a vital role when Pisa finally fell to Florence in 1509, but quickly fell into disfavor with the Medici’s and was forced to resign as second chancellor, taking instead a post with the new republican governement in Pisa.

Statue of Niccolo Machiavelli at Florence's Uffizi Palace

He was later arrested and tortured in 1512 – by the order of Medici-backed Pope Julius XII – on suspicion of plotting to kill Giuliano de’ Medici, even though Giuliano and Machaivelli had been associated for a number of years and Machiavelli actively sought to work for the Medici family.

Machiavelli was pardoned and exiled in 1513 by another Medici family member, the new Pope Leo X, who gained the papacy when Pope Julius II died. 

Conversely, da Vinci found comfortable patronage among the French court in Milan in 1508 before moving to Rome in 1512 under the patronage of – you guessed it, Giuliano de’ Medici – and moved to Rome.

It’s not known if da Vinci helped secure the pardon of Machiavelli, but circumstantial evidence indicates he did what he could to help his old friend.

The Mona Lisa painting, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, is also known as “La Gioconda” meaning the happy or joyful woman in Italian, a title which also suggests the woman’s married name.

And that’s the news on Lisa Gherardini, aka Lisa del Giocondo, finally being confirmed as the Mona Lisa model.

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