Thursday 15 June 2017

La Joconde

It's someone's birthday today and the triptych above gives a clue as to who deserves a roaring conflagration of 538 candles on her cake. I'm sorry, if there are any youthful readers of The Blob, but this woman has more likes than young-wans Taylor Swift, Adele and  Ariana Grande put together. I have here cast her in a heroic role to show how far her picture can deviate from 'the truth' and still be recognisable. I don't think a satirical pastiche of Ariana Grande as Miss Piggy would work; not least because half the kids who sing along with AG because they know all the words would not recognise a cultural icon of a previous generation - how quickly they forget.

ANNyway, Lisa di Antonmaria Gherardini was born in Firenze on 15th June 1479. She never got to taste Firenze's famous Sou'wester Cake because that's from another time . . . and another place. But the consensus is that she lived a longish and happy life; hence the enigmatic smile. She married, at 15!, a cloth-merchant in Firenze called Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, was comfortable financially and had six children (one daughter died young) and passed away, in the fullness of her years (for those days! next week I'll be the same age as she died and I'm not quite ready to go yet) in July 1542. Her, now mega-famous, portrait was begun by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503, when she was in her 20s and convincingly matronly and content - if you believe the smile.  The painting is, as everbode kno, now behind bullet-proof glass in the Louvre in Paris. Of the 10 million people who visit the Louvre each year, 80% of them are poured out of tour-buses so that they can tick the been-there-done-that box in their itinerary.  That's 20,000 people a day trooping past and ignoring the amazing treasures that are in other rooms of the old royal palace. The folks back home in Kyoto, after all, think that the Nike of Samothrace is a brand of shoe. Why not listen to Emma Durrant talking about something Louvrelse in her best Dublinese.

The portrait, although commissioned by the Giocondo family, was whisked away by da Vinci who continued to work on it for another ten years in Italy and France and I don't think it ever got to hang in the Giocondo's hallway. Accordingly, knowledge of its provenance was lost and speculation grew legs.  Many famous women were seriously suggested as being the model: Isabella d'Aragona,Cecilia Gallerani, Costanza d'Avalos, Isabella d'Este, Pacifica Brandano, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza. There is even supposition that the actual sitter was Leonardo himself in his pre-beard days, or his impish assistant Salái. The latter claim is vigorously disputed by the suits at the Louvre.
In 2005, Armin Schlechter, a scholar blowing dust off the antient folios in the archives of Heidelberg U discovered a marginal note in a copy of Cicero's Letters written in 1503 by Agostino Vespucci. Seeing the painter Appeles referred to by Cicero, Vespucci wrote in ink "Apelles pictor. Ita Leonardus Vincius facit in omnibus suis picturis, ut enim caput Lise del Giocondo et Anne matris virginis. Videbimus, quid faciet de aula magni consilii, de qua re convenit iam cum vexillifero. 1503 octobris" [Translation]. Scribble scribble Mr Vespucci tsk! That sort of thing may well remind you of  the most famous marginalia Hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet written by Fermat and serving as a challenge to Mathematicians for the next 350 years. Incidentally Agostino was cousin and contemporary of Amerigo Vespucci whose name was attached to the New World over much stronger claims by other explorers.

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