Who was Lisa Gherardini, the famous Mona Lisa?

Coline Lehembre
Publié le 3 May 2023
Who was Lisa Gherardini, the famous Mona Lisa?

Highly regarded during her lifetime, immensely famous after her death, Lisa Gherardini, better known as the Mona Lisa, is the face of the world's most famous painting. Museum TV lifts the mystery about the most photographed woman in the world...

The Florentine aristocracy

You have probably seen it at least once in your life. The portrait of Mona Lisa attracts more than 9 million visitors every year to the room where it is displayed. It is the flagship work of the Louvre. But do you know the story of the young woman who lent her features to Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting?

Lisa comes from the Gherardini line, true pillars of the ancient republican aristocracy of Florence in the 10th and 11th centuries. She was born on 15 June 1479. The family, having lost its influence over the centuries, established itself in the middle class of the time and lived comfortably.

Daughter of Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini and Lucrezia del Caccia, she was named after one of her paternal grandfather's wives.

At the age of 15, she married an older Florentine cloth merchant. Her marriage became ill-fated when her children were born. Lisa Gherardini had the misfortune to lose four of her six children in infancy. It is from this tragedy that the famous oil on canvas is said to have originated.

Francesco di Bartolomeo, her husband, is said to have commissioned the Florentine genius to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea, in December 1502, after the loss and painful bereavement of one of their first daughters three years earlier.

Da Vinci at work

Leonardo da Vinci painted the portrait of the beautiful Florentine woman, 26 years younger than him, between 1503 and 1506. The young woman would therefore be 24 years old at the time of the painting. However, other sources agree that the portrait was painted between 1513 and 1516, depicting Lisa Gherardini at the age of 34.

Depiction of Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa, Cesare Maccari (1863)

The portrait was acquired by Francis I in 1519. It should be remembered that he was the friend and protector of Leonardo da Vinci until the latter's death. Today exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris, Lisa Gherardini has been given a reputation and an eternal idolisation.

Documents found in a convent suggest that Lisa Gherardini died on 15 July 1542 at the age of 63. Other experts agree that Da Vinci's model could have lived until 1551, when she was 71. A longevity record for the time! But can we really say that Mona Lisa is dead? Knowing that her memory will live forever on the canvas of the great Renaissance master?

Find out more about Leonardo da Vinci's career on our Museum TV streaming platform.