Behind The Smile

Mona Lisa del Giocondo

Like a cat, a painting can have many lives. And in those lives, a painting can touch hearts, inspire minds, whether it be commissioned, sold, or gifted, a painting, once created, takes on a life, or lives of its own. The history of famous paintings is often supported by facts. However, a painting can also house mysteries backed only by theory and some use of the imagination. I have researched the history of the Vernon Mona Lisa over the past several months. I have found facts, theories created by historians and art experts, and unanswerable questions. For those missing pieces, I have allowed myself to “suppose” what might have been. I have chosen to write this from the voice of the painting itself.

“I was created by the hand of a master, Senor da Vinci. The portrait was commissioned by my husband, Francesco del Giocondo, a successful silk and cloth merchant and respected politician. It was 1503 and I was twenty-two years old. Life was good and I was happy. Unlike many marriages of my day, Francesco and I were very much in love. His commissioning my portrait was more a symbol of his affection than it was of economic success or status.

We were in what today would be considered the “upper middle class”. It was atypical of Senor da Vinci to accept commissions from folks like us, but it was a bit of a dry period for the master, so he agreed. However, shortly after he began, he received a large commission from the Florentine government to paint The Battle of Anghiari. It was to be a mural and was paid for handsomely upfront. He suspended work on our portrait.

The master’s work, both in painting and sculpture, was recognized and highly valued by those of great wealth and power. We had not paid for our portrait, not even a deposit, and though Senior da Vinci did not consider the portrait finished, it was sold to King Francis I. That is how I travelled to France and took my place amidst the opulence of French Aristocracy.

For hundreds of years, I was passed down from monarch to monarch. Rumor has it that Senor da Vinci painted a second version of my portrait showing me as a mature and somewhat solemn woman and that many other versions, perhaps painted by his students, also came into existence.

I was in the Palace of Versailles when the French Revolution struck. The uprising lasted for years. The King and Queen were aware of their fate. In a desperate attempt to save the life of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette gave me to a young American, William Henry Vernon Jr. This young man had quite a presence in the Courts and was a trusted friend of the Monarchy.

And so it was, that William, the Dauphin, a servant, and I boarded a ship for America in 1797.”