The three main historical accounts surrounding the emergence of Mona Lisa, those of Giorgio Vasari, Antonio de Beatis and Gian Paolo Lomazzo are very different from each other, and were written decades apart. Taken together, these accounts point to the likelihood of two distinct and different portraits, one being of the young Mona Lisa, and the second to a ‘Florentine woman’, or ‘La Gioconda’.
- Agostino Vespucci, Gian Paolo Lomazzo, who were chroniclers during the Renaissance, confirm that Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo.
- Francesco del Giocondo’s political connections in the Florentine government during the early 1500s may serve to explain why Leonardo accepted the commission to paint Lisa’s portrait.
- A number of other potential candidates (such as Isabella Gualanda, Vittoria Colonna, Isabella of Aragon, Philiberta of Savoy, Isabella d’Este, Pacifica Brandano and Caterina Sforza) have been put forward in the literature as possible subjects of the paintings, but certain facts seem to rule them out. [Click here for further evidence on this point]
There is evidence which points strongly to the fact that Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of ‘Mona Lisa’, escpecially when considered together:
- Gian Paolo Lomazzo, the Renaissance artist and historian, differentiates in 1584 between the earlier and Louvre versions of the ‘Mona Lisa’, referring to “… a Gioconda and a Mona Lisa.”
- From the 16th century onward, many art critics and experts, such as P. G. Konody, John Eyre, L. Roger-Miles, Kenneth Clark, Guy Isnard and Frank Zöllner have documented the fact that Leonardo may very well have painted two versions of the ‘Mona Lisa’.
- Renowned publications, such as the Encyclopedia Americana and the French Quid, have for years made direct reference to two separate portraits of ‘Mona Lisa’ painted by Leonardo.
- Leonardo produced multiple versions of the same or similar paintings, for example, ‘Madonna and Child’, ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder’ and ‘Virgin and Child with St. Anne’, among others.
The two versions of the Mona Lisa were probably completed at different times and in different locations
- Agostino Vespucci, perhaps the earliest witness, writes in October 1503 that Leonardo da Vinci is working on Lisa’s portrait.
- Giorgio Vasari dates this painting, the one commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo, to shortly after Leonardo’s return to Florence in 1500, and that it was left unfinished after four years, suggesting a probable dating of 1503-06.
- Raphael, while studying Leonardo’s work, executed a sketch (c.1504) of a ‘Mona Lisa’ composition, which mirrors that of the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’ because of the flanking columns, and which is fundamentally different from the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’.
- Antonio de Beatis’ diary suggests that Leonardo had finished the ‘Mona Lisa’ by 1517, and that it was completed for Giuliano de’ Medici. Leonardo worked for Giuliano in Rome from 1513-16.
The Mona Lisa Foundation has formulated a plausible explanation for the incompatibility between these accounts is that an earlier version was initiated in Florence c.1503 and left unfinished after 4 years. The second (i.e., the Louvre ‘Mona Lisa’) was started in Rome c.1513 at the encouragement of Giuliano de Medici, and used the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa‘ as a model. Mona Lisa would have been in her early-twenties in 1503 and in her mid-thirties in 1513 (as the subject in the Louvre version). Leonardo seems to have deliberately intended these portraits to be different and distinct from one another. The historical evidence suggests that the ‘Earlier Mona Lisa’, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, was probably in Salai’s possession at the time of his death in Milan in 1525, while the Louvre version was acquired by King Francis I of France in 1518.