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Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales
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Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

by Dianne Hales

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7511160,370 (3.5)None
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    Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind by Charles Nicholl (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: If you enjoy learning about Leonardo da Vinci's real-life model for the Mona Lisa, check out this richly detailed biography of the artist himself, which examines the Renaissance man's personal life and artistic career, as well as his scientific achievements.… (more)
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The enthusiasm the author brought to her search to discover more about the woman behind the painting was infectious, and got me further in the book than I would have ventured otherwise. The bits where she was on her own personal quest in Italy were very interesting, but a lot of the book seemed bogged down in speculation and dry historical facts and I found myself skimming a lot.

( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
3.5/5. A fascinating study of the real-life model for Leonardo's Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous portrait in the world, parodied now as kitsch. The author found her existence in baptismal records and since has spent years researching her subject, Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, wife of a wealthy silk merchant. Not only consulting books, the author interviewed many people knowledgeable about Italian Renaissance history, culture, customs and family relationships. We meet many famous people of that era, such as Leonardo da Vinci, the Medici, and others. We trace out what Lisa's life may have been, from marriage, childbearing, to death and burial in a monastery. We trace many of the famous families of those days through their intermarriage. There is an interesting section on recent study of the Mona Lisa, using modern forensic techniques and her history--how she passed from Italy to her home in France.

I applaud a substantial bibliography and complete index, but I regret the lack of color plates. The book could have used a section, especially of art works described extensively in the text.
The only illustration of the Mona Lisa appears as cover art and it is as though she is behind fog or a scrim. The author probably couldn't have described Lisa's life but for the heavy speculation taken from the author's description of Renaissance life. She used such words as "Perhaps", "maybe", "it could have been this way", etc. Very readable, for the educated layperson.

Recommended. ( )
  janerawoof | Mar 6, 2016 |
Dianne Hales knows how to get on my good side, starting her book with a note stating that she will always make it clear whether she is sharing speculation or fact. She also began with a family tree and a map. Despite these favorable signs, the beginning of the narrative was not so well organized. The first chapter seems to be intended as an overview of Lisa’s life, but it felt very disjointed. Abrupt transitions between scenes made it hard to get into the story, especially the transitions between the author’s experiences and Lisa’s. However, as I got into the story, the transitions felt smooth enough I hardly noticed them.

The author’s ability to capture the details of daily life in Florence and the feelings inspired by different locations was the strongest point of the book. She collected an amazing assortment of interesting stories, all connected to Lisa. She cleverly used personal correspondence from people similar to the people she was discussing to speculate about how they were feeling. She shared the feelings particular locations inspired in her to speculate about what living at those locations was like for Lisa. She always made it clear where she was extrapolating, so even though it made the story less factual, I don’t think it was misleading. In fact, I think it shared a different truth – not just about what Mona Lisa’s life was like, but what life in general was like in Florence during Lisa’s lifetime. The author’s stories included many famous people and were incredibly entertaining. I suspect this is a credit both to her research ability, finding the best anecdotes, and her enthusiasm, giving her an impressive storytelling ability.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Feb 6, 2015 |
Dianne Hales knows how to get on my good side, starting her book with a note stating that she will always make it clear whether she is sharing speculation or fact. She also began with a family tree and a map. Despite these favorable signs, the beginning of the narrative was not so well organized. The first chapter seems to be intended as an overview of Lisa’s life, but it felt very disjointed. Abrupt transitions between scenes made it hard to get into the story, especially the transitions between the author’s experiences and Lisa’s. However, as I got into the story, the transitions felt smooth enough I hardly noticed them.

The author’s ability to capture the details of daily life in Florence and the feelings inspired by different locations was the strongest point of the book. She collected an amazing assortment of interesting stories, all connected to Lisa. She cleverly used personal correspondence from people similar to the people she was discussing to speculate about how they were feeling. She shared the feelings particular locations inspired in her to speculate about what living at those locations was like for Lisa. She always made it clear where she was extrapolating, so even though it made the story less factual, I don’t think it was misleading. In fact, I think it shared a different truth – not just about what Mona Lisa’s life was like, but what life in general was like in Florence during Lisa’s lifetime. The author’s stories included many famous people and were incredibly entertaining. I suspect this is a credit both to her research ability, finding the best anecdotes, and her enthusiasm, giving her an impressive storytelling ability.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Feb 6, 2015 |
Dianne Hales knows how to get on my good side, starting her book with a note stating that she will always make it clear whether she is sharing speculation or fact. She also began with a family tree and a map. Despite these favorable signs, the beginning of the narrative was not so well organized. The first chapter seems to be intended as an overview of Lisa’s life, but it felt very disjointed. Abrupt transitions between scenes made it hard to get into the story, especially the transitions between the author’s experiences and Lisa’s. However, as I got into the story, the transitions felt smooth enough I hardly noticed them.

The author’s ability to capture the details of daily life in Florence and the feelings inspired by different locations was the strongest point of the book. She collected an amazing assortment of interesting stories, all connected to Lisa. She cleverly used personal correspondence from people similar to the people she was discussing to speculate about how they were feeling. She shared the feelings particular locations inspired in her to speculate about what living at those locations was like for Lisa. She always made it clear where she was extrapolating, so even though it made the story less factual, I don’t think it was misleading. In fact, I think it shared a different truth – not just about what Mona Lisa’s life was like, but what life in general was like in Florence during Lisa’s lifetime. The author’s stories included many famous people and were incredibly entertaining. I suspect this is a credit both to her research ability, finding the best anecdotes, and her enthusiasm, giving her an impressive storytelling ability.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Feb 6, 2015 |
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A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. No face has ever captivated so many for so long. Every year more than nine million visitors trek to her portrait in the Louvre. Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, hardly anyone knows her story. This book rests on the premise that the woman in the Mona Lisa is indeed the person identified in its earliest description: Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), wife of the Florence merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Dianne Hales has followed facts wherever she could find them--from the Florence State Archives, to the squalid street where she was born, to the ruins of the convent where she died.
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"A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. No face has ever captivated so many for so long. Every year more than nine million visitors trek to her portrait in the Louvre. Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, hardly anyone knows her story. This book rests on the premise that the woman in the Mona Lisa is indeed the person identified in its earliest description: Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), wife of the Florence merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Dianne Haleshas followed facts wherever she could find them -- from the Florence State Archives, to the squalid street where she was born, to the ruins of the convent where she died. Lisa Gherardini was a quintessential woman of her times, caught in a whirl of political upheavals, family dramas, and public scandals. Descended from ancient nobles, she gave birth to six children and died at age sixty-three. Her life spanned the most tumultuous chapters in the history of Florence, decades of war, rebellion, invasion, siege, and conquest--and of the greatest artistic outpouring the world has ever seen. Her story creates an extraordinary tapestry of Renaissance Florence, inhabited by larger-than-legend figures such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. Mona Lisa: ALife Discovered takes readers beyond the frame of Leonardo's masterpiece and introduces them to a fully dimensional human being"--… (more)

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