This ‘itinerario’ was written by Antonio de Beatis, who was the secretary/chaplain to Cardinal Luigi of Aragon, and it detailed the day-to-day events during a ‘Grand Tour’ undertaken by the Cardinal, de Beatis and their entourage, of which he was part, between May 9, 1517 and March 16, 1518. Ostensibly, the trip was planned so that Luigi would meet up in Germany with King Charles I of Spain, later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; but the Cardinal was not going to let a little political business stand in the way of pleasure. Strangely, because of only a few ‘en passant’ details hidden away in the text, this now frequently-quoted diary has become pivotal to the history of the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’. In questions relating to the identification of this masterpiece, both men are greatly underestimated. Yet in their own rights, each, and Luigi in particular, was extremely well-connected and highly informed.
The journal offers a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in early 16th Century Europe, as their ‘Grand Tour’ wove its way through Germany, Switzerland, The Low Countries, France and Italy. De Beatis writes with concision; sometimes with great descriptive passages; sometimes wryly; and not hesitating to throw in copious personal opinions. Occasionally his notes mirror national and urban stereotypes that were well in use by that time: a contemporary, Ulrich von Hutten, in one of his Letters of Obscure Men (1515-17) wrote the following [abridged] note: “I send you more salutations than there are thieves in Poland, heretics in Bohemia, boors in Switzerland … pimps in Spain, topers in Saxony, harlots in Bamberg, children of Sodom at Florence, sailors in Zeeland, artisans in Nuremberg, herrings in Flanders.”
In October of 1517 they went out of their way specially to visit Leonardo at his home in exile at Cloux (now Clos-Luce), near Amboise, in France. Leonardo’s reputation was known to the Cardinal.
“The visit to Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise is a unique record of what this artist was doing after he settled in France at the request of Francis I. The account indicates that the King did not expect any particular works of the artist but was happy to allow Leonardo to pursue whatever interests he wished. Such freedom seems rarely to have been granted to other artists in royal service. -” Charles Nicholl
So, on one hand we have the journal’s ‘raison d’être’, the wealthy, cultured, 42-year old Cardinal, already widely travelled and intellectually abreast of whatever Rome, then the cultural centre of Europe, had to offer. On the other hand, there is the author de Beatis, Canon of Molfetta, latin scholar, modest, loyal and dedicated to his master. Their entourage consisted of 35 courtiers, household officials and servants. The expedition cost 15,000 ducats, a substantial sum in those days, though Luigi’s income was in excess of 24,000 ducats.
Originally written in Latin, the diary was never published. Five original manuscripts exist, four in the hand of de Beatis himself, dated 1521. It was not until 1872 that an Italian version was published by Gustavo Uzielli. It was then translated into German in 1905 (Ludwig Pastor), and subsequently into French in 1913 (Madeleine Havard de la Montagne). An English edition did not appear until 1979 ( J. R. Hale and J. M. A. Lindon).
In 1905 there appeared a translation in German of a Latin manuscript written in 1521 by Don Antonio de Beatis, Canon of Molfetta. In effect it was a diary, detailing the day-to-day events and adventures of Cardinal Luigi of the Spanish House of Aragon, his private chaplain and amanuensis Antonio de Beatis, and their modest entourage of 35.
On October 10, 1517, more than thirty years before Vasari published his Vite, Cardinal Luigi, Antonio de Beatis and their entourage visited “Messer Leonardo Vinci of Florence … the most outstanding painter of our day … ” then living out his last years in exile at Cloux, in the Loire Valley. There, Leonardo showed them three pictures, all three of them “ … perfettissimi … ” or completely perfect; finished. In the margin of the entry, de Beatis adds later “ … bellissimi … ” – “ … they [the pictures] are beautiful …”
Included in the selection that Leonardo offered for viewing was:
“one of a certain Florentine woman, done from life, at the instance of the late Magnificent Giuliano de Medici…”
In fact, on the next day, October 11, at Blois Castle, de Beatis comments further about yet another portrait, this time of a certain lady of Lombardy, along with a passing reference to a certain Signora Gualanda.
Now the cat is out of the bag. Art historians jumped on the de Beatis references. Many of today’s leading Leonardo experts and the Louvre Museum itself believe and have written extensively that the painting Leonardo showed to de Beatis and the Cardinal of Aragon is the one now in the Louvre. There is a definite logic in this; after all the painting was already in France at that time, and on Royal property. Furthermore, the other two paintings that Leonardo showed the Cardinal, a young ‘St. John the Baptist’, and a ‘Madonna and Child’ set in the lap of St. Anne, are both in the Louvre collection. Was it not the new king, Francis I, an obvious fan of Leonardo, who had extended the invitation and encouraged the ageing genius to spend his last years in the lap of French regal luxury? However, some scholarly opinions are likely based on the stylistic details of the Louvre version, as well as pointing to the fact that some techniques employed were really only developed by Leonardo towards the end of his career.
Professor Alessandro Vezzosi elaborates further: “The style, in fact, is traceable to a work of art done in Leonardo’s later, more mature period after 1510, presumably around 1515 …The facts are numerous, like an eye and a lock of hair in a sheet of the ‘Codice Atlantico’ (‘Atlantic Code’) dated around 1515. Among the anatomical studies, there are many pertinent ones regarding the facial construction and in particular, the mouth with the mythical smile: others are in regard to their visual perceptions. All are datable at least after 1508.”
Professor Vezzosi continues, in relation to the Louvre version: “The hypothesis that we are dealing with an unfinished work of art after four years of suffering, from 1502-1506, and that Leonardo favoured it and carried it with him always until his death, does not seem to correspond to reality.”
In addition, Professor Carlo Vecce, and others, have considered dates as late as 1515. Martin Kemp, in reference to the Louvre version, writes that “This evidence tends to be supported by the painting’s technique of veiled glazes, which is demonstrably a characteristic of Leonardo’s late style.”
Kenneth Clark also believed that the painting in the Louvre was of Leonardo’s later period, probably c.1510: and opined that “… there is no reason to date the picture after 1513.”
Professor Carlo Pedretti states in Leonardo – A Study in Chronology and Style (1982) “Even the ‘Mona Lisa’ is still, for me, one of Leonardo’s latest works dating from after 1513.”
The consensus is that the Louvre version definitely dates from Leonardo’s later years. This in turn, further opened up an enormous amount of speculation regarding the identity of the woman in that portrait, which is evidently not the portrait painted c.1503- 1506 as described by Vasari. These matters are treated in detail in the section: ‘The Woman Of The Louvre Masterpiece – Who Is She?’
Moreover, this painting is believed by many historians to have been commissioned by Giuliano de Medici, and perhaps represents one of his mistresses. Is there a possibility that Leonardo’s comment to Cardinal Luigi has been misinterpreted? Furthermore, if that really is the painting now in the Louvre, then what happened to Francesco del Giocondo’s portrait of his wife, Mona Lisa?
• The same painting cannot have been commissioned by two entirely different people.
• The dates of completion of the two portraits are possibly 11 or 12 years apart.
• The picture could not be unfinished and finished at the same time.
Vasari dates the painting within the first few years of the 16th Century, and of course in Florence, where Leonardo maintained his studio, at least until 1506. If Giuliano de Medici commissioned it, then it could only have been painted while Leonardo was living in Rome and working under Giuliano’s patronage, which was roughly from 1513 to 1516.
Now location plays a critical role. Mona Lisa (Lisa del Giocondo), was by 1513 a settled middle-class wife in her mid-30s, with a house full of children in Florence: it is unlikely that she would have travelled to Rome to sit for a portrait.
Lisa was born in 1479, so in the version of the Mona Lisa described by Vasari, she would have been in her early to mid-twenties. The woman in the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ is definitely quite older, even allowing that some people may have aged earlier in those days. It is clear, therefore, that there were two separate and distinct versions.
READING DE BEATIS
October 10th, 1517
“uno di certa dona fire[n]tina facta di naturale ad instantia del quo[n]dam Magn Juliano de’ Medici…”
“one of a certain Florentine woman, done from life, at the instance of the late Magnificent Giuliano de’ Medici…”
No discussion of the origin of Mona Lisa would be complete without the objective analysis of the highly significant words above. They constitute a critical memorandum in the travel journal of Antonio de Beatis, entered on October 10, 1517; coincidentally almost 14 years to the day later than when Agostino Vespucci made his notation in Florence. Here, de Beatis is describing one of the paintings shown to him and Cardinal Luigi of Aragon by Leonardo himself; and it is likely that the typically terse information comes straight from Leonardo.
It has been suggested by some scholars that Leonardo was being deliberately vague about the identity of the woman in order to protect the reputation of his patron, the late Giuliano de Medici. However neither Leonardo nor de Beatis for that matter had any reason to be misleading, and if Leonardo had anything to hide, either on his own or on Giuliano’s behalf, he would simply not have shown the painting in the first place.
Leonardo uses the term “ … a certain Florentine woman … ” not only because she was of ordinary middle-class, not of nobility or famous for any reason, but also because he knew that she was therefore anonymous and unrecognizable to his guests. This is borne out because de Beatis makes no acknowledgement or further comment about the woman, her name or identity, nor are there any later remarks about her in the margins of the diary.
“ … done from life …” in this context means simply that the sitter posed for Leonardo in his studio, and therefore both Leonardo and his subject would have had to have been in the same place and at the same time. The historical evidence presented here suggests that Leonardo painted the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ c.1513-16. We know from his notebooks that Leonardo was passionate about anatomy and the effect of ageing on the human body. It is therefore quite possible that Leonardo used the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’, which was “… done from life …” as the model for the Louvre painting and simply imagined what Mona Lisa del Giocondo would have looked like 10 years later, again “from life”. Forensic evidence, which suggests that the subject of the two Mona Lisas was the same with an 11-12 age difference confirms this hypothesis. Leonardo would therefore have told de Beatis that Lisa did pose for him at one time and that the Louvre painting emanates from this. ‘The Regression Project’ compares the two images of Lisa; like photographs taken 12 years apart: the earlier one satisfying the Vasari description; the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ complying with Leonardo’s later style.
De Beatis interprets Leonardo with the elegant “ … ad instantia … ”. Though its literal reading is likely “ … at the instance of … ”, or “ … at the suggestion of … ”, or even “ … at the demand of … ” – it can in this context be intended to mean that it was commissioned by de Medici. This interpretation alone will not appease those historians who believe that the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’ really represents a mistress, or favourite of Giuliano de Medici, and that there is no other painting. This latter opinion ignores the existence of Vasari’s history and text. It also ignores the significance of Francesco del Giocondo, his commission to Leonardo, the evidence found in the Heidelberg document, and all the literary origins of Mona Lisa, as well as the earlier painting that had been so emphatically documented.
Then, to complicate matters even further, the de Beatis journal has another mysterious entry, dated the following day.
October 11th, 1517
The day after visiting Leonardo, Cardinal Luigi and his entourage were at the nearby château of Blois, where, de Beatis notes: “There was also an oil painting from life of a certain lady of Lombardy: a beautiful woman indeed, but less so, in my opinion, than Signora Gualanda.” Again, a later notation in the margin assists in identifying the latter as Signora Isabella Gualanda.
It has been suggested that the painting of the beautiful lady of Lombardy may well have been the ‘Portrait d’une dame de la cour de Milan’ (a.k.a. ‘La Belle Ferronnière’), looted from the property of Ludovico Sforza when the French overthrew him in 1499, and now in the Louvre. However it is the passing comment about Isabella Gualanda that has had researchers scrambling for their history books, and it is fair to say that she would be almost completely unheard of today if it were not for this insignificant comment. Some leading experts propose that it is Signora Gualanda and not Lisa del Giocondo who is the ‘Joconde’, subject of the Louvre painting.
These matters, and the critical question of identity are treated and analysed in greater detail in the section: ‘The Woman Of The Louvre Masterpiece – Who Is She?’