C.W. Gusewell


Mona Lisa is forever ours

It is uncertain whether the skeletal remains unearthed recently in Florence, Italy, are those of Lisa Gherardini – thought to be the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

The discovery by archaeologists of intact bones and a skull in a grave under the floor of an abandoned convent invites reflection on the true meaning of immortality.

Further research, including possible DNA testing, will be needed to determine if the remains truly are those of Ms. Gherardini, but the historical record is promising.

Born in 1479, Lisa was married at age 15 to a Florentine merchant many years her senior, who commissioned a portrait of his wife by da Vinci in 1503.

The artist is thought to have begun the painting that year, but he was sidetracked by other projects and neither delivered the work nor was paid for it.

It is believed he finally completed the portrait a decade later after moving to France as a guest and protégé of King Francois, who installed him in a residence near the royal chateau at Amboise.

The Mona Lisa is by all odds the world’s most famous piece of art – its celebrity much enhanced by its theft Aug. 21, 1911, from the Louvre in Paris.

A museum worker hid in a broom closet after the museum’s closing, removed the painting from its frame and slipped out with it the next morning.

He kept it in his apartment for two years, but he was undone when he tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The Mona Lisa was restored to her home at the Louvre, where it’s said she is visited by some 6 million admirers a year.

The report of the discovery in Florence was accompanied by a photograph of the grave’s contents. Should the remains prove to be those of Lisa Gherardini, they are powerful testimony to the perishable nature of beauty.

But only of temporal beauty.

In his epic poem “Don Juan,” England’s Lord Byron lamented human frailty and the brevity of life. But although Byron died 188 years ago, the grace of his language still resonates.

Lisa Gherardini has been gone even longer, 470 years. But if indeed she was Leonardo’s model, she will live forever, her beauty untouched by years, on the wall of the Louvre.

Theirs is not, perhaps, the sort of eternal life for which most human beings yearn. But it is the best that a writer’s pen and a painter’s brush can confer.