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Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered Paperback – August 18, 2015
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Biography, history, and memoir are woven together in Hales’ (La Bella Lingua, 2009) lyrical biography of Lisa Gherardini, the donna vera (real woman) captured in Leonardo da Vinci’s early sixteenth-century masterpiece, Mona Lisa. Hales paints a vivid history of the dramatic, often violent Renaissance Florence in which Gherardini lived: a town populated with scheming politicians, warring religious factions, and artists boasting rock-star popularity. Intertwined with this tale is Gherardini’s personal biography as a daughter, a merchant’s wife, a devoted mother, and a family matriarch—a story that provides counterpoint to the epic, male-dominated history of the age. The verifiable facts of Gherardini’s life are scarce, so Hales leans heavily on “informed imagination,” delving deeply into the customs, rituals, and relationships that governed women’s lives in Renaissance Italy. Throughout the book, she scours archives, interrogates scholars, and walks the streets of Florence, seeking traces of Gherardini in detail and in spirit. These first-person accounts reveal the author’s deep kinship with Gherardini, and her quest endows human subjectivity to one of art history’s greatest icons. --Lindsay Bosch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"I’m enthralled by every page of Dianne Hales’s Mona Lisa. The mysteries of the painting remain, but through Hales’s portraits of the people and her skilled rendering of customs, politics, and daily habits of the time, you come to know the painting in profound new ways. The great pleasure of her prose brings Lisa Gheradini’s world to vivid life. Anyone who loves art and Italy—and who doesn’t—will adore this book. (Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and Under Magnolia)
"This is cultural history that reads like a detective novel as Dianne Hales tracks down the real woman behind one of the world’s most famous and enigmatic faces. Expertly sleuthing her way through the treasure troves of archives and palazzos, she offers her own fascinating portrait not just of Lisa Gherardini but also of the vibrant Renaissance world that nurtured both Lisa and Leonardo’s painting." (Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Leonardo and The Last Supper)
"Biography, history, and memoir are woven together in Hales' lyrical biography of Lisa Gherardini...her quest endows human subjectivity to one of art history's greatest icons." (Booklist)
"Engaging...a rich tapestry of family life, mercantile society, politics, and artistic development...enthralling." (BookPage)
"Veteran journalist Dianne Hales shares with us the tumultuous lives of both Gherardini and the artist who immortalized her, and brings us along on the travels of a work of art for which love and esteem have increased markedly over the centuries." (New York Post)
“A readable and affectionate my-search-for-story for art lovers and anyone interested in glorious and gory Florence in the 15th- to 16th centuries, and in the divine Leonardo in particular…Hales' assiduous research has made it possible for us to know Mona Lisa just a bit, enough to wonder if this otherwise ordinary Florentine housewife could ever have imagined her portrait enchanting millions for centuries.” (USAToday.com)
“Now, thanks to meticulous research, Hales’ biography-memoir-history lesson brings to life Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), the unforgettable face behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
"Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy...an accessible, vivid examination of women's lives in Florence of the period....Entertaining." (Publishers Weekly)
"It's a joy to follow Dianne Hales' fascinating exploration into what's behind the world's most famous smile—an enchanting mix of fascinating history and passion-filled memoir." (Susan Van Allen, author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go)
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Top Customer Reviews
This is definitely not a book for scholars of Renaissance history or of Italian Renaissance art, who tend to turn up their noses as this kind of writing, dismissing it as nothing new and mere speculation. But for other readers, not experts in those fields, the book provides a great deal of interesting information. Yes, there are a lot of "might have's" and could have's" throughout, but the author makes no claims to uncovering sensational new material. Instead, she makes good use of what scholars have brought to light about women in Florence during (and before) the period when Lisa Gherardini was alive, and relating that to Lisa's life. She demonstrates effectively how Lisa "might have/could have" lived.
Readers who wouldn't necessarily pick up a book on Renaissance history or a scholarly biography of Leonardo will learn a lot about both the period and the painting. The book isn't great literature or brilliant scholarship, but it's not intended as either. It's an entertaining and enlightening look at a fascinating era, through the lens of a particular woman's life.
This book is a triumph of research that should put to rest many of the
absurd theories of her life and the motivation of Da Vinci in painting
her. The reader may well experience both tears and smiles in finally
getting to know something concrete about one of the most
recognizable icons in human history. Brava Dianne!
Salvatore Prisco, Ph.D.
Prof. of History,
Stevens Institute of Technology
It was above her reading level and with some adult content (some just complicated stuff and some regarding sexual relationships of the time -mild content, just not stuff for 10 year olds). So I read sections that pertained to her report and through others to help find more information.
My daughter wrote on the main theme that there must have been something special about Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo if:
•her father would sell off some of his family pride (land) when they had so little left to their claim of nobiity/landed gentry to secure her marriage;
•if her husband married her with no dowry and just a small plot of land worth much less than a proper dowry;
•if Leonardo chose to paint her portrait while turning down the commissions of royalty
•If Leonardo's portrait of her has captivated people so greatly and for so long
The books is fascinating and I loved the ins and outs of the adventure Dianne Hales takes us on as we discover intimate details of Lisa's life and her time and place in history. It's what some would call "a living book" -such a refreshing break from the boring and dull accounts found in textbooks and most other reference books we could find.
I did not read it straight through, but plan to (soon). What I did read, through (at least half of it) was fantastic.
If you want information about the most likely woman of the famous portrait, want a great look at life in Florence in the mid 1500s to mid 1600s, or looking for just a good history and travel based read -get this book!