Measuring Mona Lisa’s and Your Attitude

William’s eclectic stack of magazines covering astronomy, photography, history, science, literature and current affairs beckons curious readers from the corner of our kitchen nook.  During Applewood School days, when Natalie and I would have our afternoon cup of tea, we’d often thumb through his magazines and find subjects we wanted to research further.  On my own a few days ago,  I was sipping a delicious cup of Organic Assam from Harney & Sons while thumbing through a May/June 2012 issue of Science Illustrated, when I turned to “The Woman Behind the Enigmatic Smile,” an article about the most recently uncovered mystery about the woman we all know as the Mona Lisa.  I learned that Italian archaeologists have probably discovered the grave of the woman who sat for the painter Leonardo da Vinci more than 500 years ago.

Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and writer living in Florence in da Vinci’s time, made a note that survives stating that Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant, had commissioned da Vinci to paint a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, his wife.  Yet, there has never been a way to prove that this “Mona (or Mrs.) Lisa,” was the woman in the famous painting.  Imagine then how exciting it was for archaeologists to discover deep beneath the floor of a long-abandoned convent a grave that contains the skeleton of a woman who they believe was Lisa Gherardini.   Artists are now in the process of reconstructing the skeleton’s face, which will reveal whether there is a resemblance to the woman in da Vinci’s painting.  The convent where the grave was found, under a modern concrete floor and a layer of bricks, was abandoned in the early 1800’s.  It then became a tobacco factory, a war refugee camp, and it is currently a university building.  Church archives reveal that Lisa Gherardini moved into the Franciscan convent Sant’Orsola after the death of her husband, who she had married in 1495 when she was 16 years old.  She was buried on July 15, 1542 in an underground crypt in the convent.

I loved this side note about the painting that appeared with the article: “Scientists at the University of Amsterdam, using a computer program to analyze her face, have concluded that Mona Lisa was 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful and 2 percent angry when she was painted.”

In this photo William took of Natalie and me in September 2011 in Washington DC, I was at least 77 percent happy, 11 percent sad (last day of our trip), 7 percent nervous (about flying) and 5 percent tired (after walking 7 miles).  According to Natalie, she is 85 percent happy, 10 percent sad (last day of our trip), and 5 percent impatient (for dinner to arrive after walking 7 miles).



  • Andy McEwan

    A fascinating post, Pamela. It will be very interesting if the archaeologists can relably confirm the body as that of Lisa Gherardini and that she was the sitter for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Even so, I think the picture will retain its air of mystery, particularly because of the sitter’s enigmatic expression which has so intrigued viewers over the centuries. I doubt if the Amsterdam scientists’ analysis, albeit interesting, will influence many perceptions: I suspect those who see the picture will continue to form their own impressions of that puzzling countenance. I’m about 95 percent sure of that.

    • TwointheMiddle

      How lovely it would be if you could join us in the kitchen nook for reading, tea and conversation. I am 100% certain we would never want to budge.

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