Author(s): Martin Kemp
Read this book and the world's most famous image will never look the same again. For the world's greatest cultural icon still has secrets to reveal - not the silly secrets that the 'Leonardo loonies' continue to advance, but previously unknown facts about the lives of Leonardo, his father, Lisa Gherardini, the subject of the portrait, and her husband Francesco del Giocondo. From this factual beginning we see how the painting metamorphosed into a 'universal picture' that became the prime vehicle for Leonardo's prodigious knowledge of the human and natural worlds.
We learn about the new money of the ambitious merchant who married into the old gentry of Lisa's family. We discover Lisa's life as a wife and mother, her association with sexual scandals, and her later life in a convent. We meet, for the first time, the illegitimate Leonardo's real mother and find out where he was really born. The tiny hill town of Vinci is placed before us, with its widespread poverty. We find out about the career and possessions of his father, a notable lawyer in Florence.
The meaning of the portrait that resulted from these human circumstances is vividly illuminated though Renaissance love poetry and verses specifically dedicated to Leonardo. We come to understand how Leonardo's sciences of optics, psychology, anatomy and geology are embraced in his poetic science of art. Recent scientific examinations of the painting disclose how it evolved to assume its present appearance in Leonardo's experimental hands.
Above all, we cut though the suppositions and the myths to show that the portrait is a product of real people in a real place at a real time. This is the book that brings back a sense of reality into the creation of the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. And the actual Mona Lisa, it turns out, is even more astonishing and transcendent than the Mona Lisa of legend.
Martin Kemp FBA is Emeritus Professor in the History of Art at Trinity College. Oxford University. One of the world's leading authorities on Leonardo da Vinci, he has published extensively on his life and work, including the prize-winning Leonardo da Vinci. The marvellous works of nature and man (1989 and 2006) and Leonardo (2004 and 2011), both of which are also published by Oxford University Press, and most recently La Bella Principessa, written with Pascal Cotte (2010). Giuseppe Pallanti lives and works in Florence, where he is an Economics teacher. He has a passion for archival research and has been researching the history of the Del Giocondo and da Vinci families for many years.