Every year, millions of people are drawn to the Louvre in Paris by the secret smile of the Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda. Theories abound as to who this mischievous, black-veiled eyebrowless beauty was, but none has given a satisfactory answer as to what made her so uniquely attractive. “Not even that beautiful”, they say, just an ordinary portrait in the middle of a giant wall. Yet they are curious to discover something in her that no one else has yet.
The carefully protected painting
I had been puzzled by this mystery for years, until the picture came together. It was a cathartic experience. I felt the magic. I could never have imagined how logical and heart-warming the solution was, and it was right under our noses all along.
It is well known that Leonardo da Vinci was an exceptionally versatile talent. But the sensitive heart of the man inside him is rarely examined. The speculations that circulate around the world about his private life, his parents and the relationship he had with them are mere conjecture. It takes empathy beside the dry facts, to get a human picture of him and his world-famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
The first puzzle of my research was provided by Dr. Martin Kemp, Professor of Art History at Oxford University. According to his book, “Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting”, the portrait was ordered by a Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, for his wife, Lisa Gherardini.
However, Richard Friedenthal, the renowned literary historian and biographer, in his book, “Leonardo”, finds it interesting, even striking, that the wealthy patrician’s wife dressed so simply. She wears no jewellery and her chestnut hair is covered with a delicate veil, as if in mourning.
It is also curious that Leonardo never gave the painting to its supposed commissioner, and kept it until the last day of his life. There is no documentary proof of the order. The painting was not named by Leonardo, but by Vasari, a biographer. If Leonardo had fallen in love with Giocondo’s Lisa, and this had justified his desire to keep the painting, it would have been a public declaration of their love affair. Clearly the wealthy patrician would not have allowed this.
Insight into the layers of the painting
It is possible that Leonardo started to paint Lisa, but for some reason changed his mind and repainted it. Pascal Cotte, a French engineer optician has literally highlighted this possibility. He has invented the first multi spectral high definition camera, that breaks down the painting into layers and reveals the chronological order in which the painting was created. This revealed that there is another portrait under the Mona Lisa, presumably Lisa Gherardini. So the woman in the painting might be another woman.
The American digital artist Lillian Schwartz has discovered a perfect match between Leonardo’s drawings of himself and the Mona Lisa. She believes it is based on the master’s self-portrait.
Sigmund Freud claimed that Leonardo could have painted his mother, who was no longer alive. But if the artist wanted to preserve the memory of his mother in this way, why did he not let those around him know that the painting was of her?
The Italian researcher Silvano Vinceti saw in the portrait, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, the angel-faced pupil of the master, also known as Salaì. He tried to support this theory by claiming that Leonardo had hidden the initials of their names in the eyes of the Mona Lisa. Thus proving their love affair. However, this was disproved by Louvre experts, who carried out detailed tests on the painting in 2004 and 2009, but found no letters hidden in the eyes.
The curse became blessing
Respecting and taking into account the many years of research – probably based on an intuitive idea, that they then wanted to prove – I put the pieces of the puzzle together and the picture finally made sense.
A note from Leonardo reveals that he probably considered himself a love child. But for some reason, his parents, though they loved each other so much, could never marry. Leonardo was born therefore as an illegitimate child. The curse became a blessing, because it allowed him to become a world polyhistor and not be forced to become a notary like his ancestors five generations earlier. At the age of 15, he was able to study in Andrea Verrocchio’s workshop, with his father’s help, which was the most prestigious handicraft workshop in Florence. At this time they moved from Vinci, where his parents presumably grew up together. From then on, he saw his mother much less. Many people think, that Leonardo was homosexual, but it is more likely, that seeing his parents’ unhappy fate, he was afraid to fall in love, or copying the family pattern, constantly fell in love with women unavailable to him.
Nevertheless, he may have longed for a family of his own. When, at the age of 38, the 10-year-old Salaì became his pupil, he loved and spoiled him as a son, perhaps too much so, since the boy repeatedly stole from him and abused his goodwill. At the age of 53, another boy joined Leonardo’s pupils, the 15 years old Francesco Melzi of noble birth. He became his most loyal confidant, who loved the master as a father. Both „sons” married and Melzi had 8 children.
So Vinceti sensed the love in the picture, but he was wrong, as probably it was not the love affair between Salaì
Alone in the world
According to Dr. Martin Kemp, da Vinci’s mother and Lisa Gherardini had very similar fates, so it is possible that she reminded the artist of his deceased mother. Moreover, just months after he began painting Lisa, his beloved father died. It was at this moment, that the painter may realised how alone he was in the world. In his deep grief, he may have changed his mind and decided to paint all three of them as a memorial. Thus, in one face, at last he has united his family, as they couldn’t be together while they were alive. Perhaps that’s why he cherished this painting with so much love, until his last breath.
So Lillian Schwarz might be right in thinking it’s based on a self-portrait although it looks more like the father. Also Freud, who thinks it is his mother, and finally Vinceti, who saw a young boy in the painting.
I have written a moving novel, Dance of souls 2, Secrets of Da Vinci’s parents (only released in Hungary in 2022) and as if the spirits of the Da Vinci family wanted to reward all of us for our efforts, before the book had even gone to print, I received the proof of my theory: ‘Use the mirror!‘, I heard. To my utter surprise, mirrored right and left along the axis of the portrait, I discovered a woman and a man. Then covering her chest, the Mona Lisa suddenly looked like a 10-year-old Renaissance child next to them. I was so moved and overwhelmed to discover the whole family.
Understandable, as Leonardo had written his 6,000 pages of notes in mirror writing, an innate, unique ‘talent’. It must have enabled him to create a mirror image too.
The five-hundred-year-old puzzle, which Leonardo offered to the world unwittingly this time, was solved together like a symphony orchestra, where all the instruments are equally important for a beautiful sound. At last we managed to make the Mona Lisa sing her love secret:
Whoever has faith stronger than fear, the universe will sooner or later reunite him with his true mirror soulmate!
Mona Lisa could become the symbol of true love after all. It’s surely not a coincidence that the picture attracts millions of couples to the City of Love, Paris, to this day.
Berti M. Bagdi, author
She might be the mother, Caterina di Meo Lippi:
He might the father, be Ser Piero da Vinci:
He might be the 10 years old Leonardo da Vinci:
Dance of Souls 2, Secrets of Da Vinci’s parents will be soon available.