cover image Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

Dianne Hales. Simon & Schuster, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5896-5

In this entertaining book, Hales (La Bella Lingua) attempts to reconstruct the obscure life of Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a prosperous Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who either commissioned the painting from Leonardo da Vinci or was approached by the artist to create the smoky portrait now ensconced in the Louvre. Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy, the book portrays Lisa Gherardini as a Renaissance Everywoman; Hales colors the blank spaces in her life with Renaissance cultural history, and considers the education she may have received, the etiquette she would have observed, what she would have eaten, what clothing she likely wore, the nature of her sex life, and much more. The result is an accessible, vivid examination of women’s lives in Florence in the period. Occasionally, though, this coloring can lead to flights of fancy that are difficult to take seriously, such as the sensationalist notion that perhaps artist and sitter “forged such an intense connection that all else seemed to fall away in a moment suspended in time.” As Hales whisks around Italy, interviews historians, inspects Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in the church of Santa Maria Novella, rents a villa in the Tuscan countryside and an apartment in Florence, and lunches with a Florentine princess, American readers will envy the lifestyle and enjoy the ride. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Aug.)