- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007


It may be that the world’s most famously enigmatic woman has shed some of her mystery.

An amateur historian believes he has found the final resting place of the Florentine Renaissance woman who inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned “Mona Lisa.”

Giuseppe Pallanti, a high school economics teacher from Florence who has written a book about the “Mona Lisa,” has unearthed a death certificate that shows the woman believed by some to have inspired the artist, Lisa Gherardini, died on July 15, 1542, in Florence and is buried in a convent in the center of the Tuscan city.

“Maybe Leonardo chose a woman like many others. She was not a noblewoman, or a princess. She was a family woman,” Mr. Pallanti said Friday.

Gherardini was born in 1479 and married a rich silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. She has been linked to the painting — known in Italian as “La Gioconda” — because Giorgio Vasari, a 16th-century artist and biographer of da Vinci and other artists, wrote that da Vinci painted a portrait of del Giocondo’s wife.

In addition, del Giocondo was a neighbor and acquaintance of the artist’s father, Piero da Vinci, Mr. Pallanti says.

“I’m not taking a stance, I’m not an art historian,” he says, “but it’s hard to believe that Vasari lied.”

Alessandro Vezzosi, a da Vinci expert and the director of a museum dedicated to the artist in his hometown of Vinci, says Mr. Pallanti is a respected researcher whose work sheds light on Gherardini. However, he says, she was not the woman depicted in the work that hangs in Paris’ Louvre Museum.

“There is a basic mistake, to say that this is the real Gioconda,” Mr. Vezzosi says.

A letter that da Vinci wrote indicates that the woman in the painting probably was a lover of the artist’s sponsor, the Florentine nobleman Giuliano de Medici, Mr. Vezzosi said.

“This doesn’t mean that he didn’t also paint del Giocondo’s wife,” Mr. Vezzosi says, but that portrait has yet to be located.

Vasari also wrote that the portrait of Gherardini was of note because of the woman’s beautifully painted eyelashes and eyebrows — a feature that is absent from da Vinci’s most famous work, Mr. Vezzosi says.

Mr. Pallanti, who unearthed Gherardini’s death certificate late last month, says she was a mother of six. Her home was near Florence’s Basilica of San Lorenzo, which is near the Convent of St. Ursula, where she is said to have been buried.

Gherardini’s daughter Marietta, who was a nun, lived in that convent.

“Her husband’s will said that after his death she would go and live with her daughter,” Mr. Pallanti says. That is what led him to the convent and the eventual discovery of her death certificate, he adds.

Mr. Pallanti says the convent is not in good shape, and he has not tried to find the actual tomb.

“It may be that I will try later,” he says.

Associated Press writer Ariel David contributed to this story.

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