Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
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Mona Lisa

Available in paperback!

Mona Lisa

A genius immortalized her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Every year millions of visitors trek to view her portrait in the Louvre. Yet for five centuries, all that the world knew was her smile.

Intrigued by new findings confirming the identity of Leonardo's model, I set off on a personal quest for the flesh-and-blood woman in the world's most praised and parodied painting. Who was she, this ordinary woman who rose to such extraordinary fame? Why did the most renowned painter of her time choose her as his model? What became of her? And why does her smile enchant us still?

Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, we now know with as much certainty as possible after the passage of half a millennium, was a quintessential woman of her times, caught in a whirl of political upheavals, family dramas, and public scandals. Descended from ancient nobles, she was born and baptized in Florence in 1479. Wed to a truculent businessman twice her age, she gave birth to six children and died at age sixty-three in 1542.

Lisa's life spanned the most tumultuous chapters in the history of Florence—decades of war, rebellion, invasion, siege, and conquest. Her story creates an extraordinary tapestry of daily life in a time poised between the medieval and the modern, a vibrant city bursting into fullest bloom, and a culture that redefined the possibilities of man—and of woman.   —Dianne Hales

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Table of Contents

  1. Una donna vera (A Real Woman)
Part I: Gherardini Blood (59 B.C.-1478)
  1. Fires of the Heart
  2. A Voice without a Face
  3. "Who Would Be Happy..."
Part II: Una Fiorentina (1479-1499)
  1. Daughter of the Renaissance
  2. Money and Beauty
  3. The Business of Marriage
  4. The Merchant's Wife
Part III: A New Century (1500-1512)
  1. New Beginnings
  2. The Portrait in Progress
  3. Family Matters
Part IV: The Medici Triumphant (1513-1579)
  1. The Rise of the Lions
  2. The Great Sea
Part V: The Most Famous Painting in the World
  1. The Adventures of Madame Lisa
  2. The Last Smile


USA Today Article
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"I'm enthralled by every page of Dianne Hales's Mona Lisa. The mysteries of the painting remain but through Hales's portraits of the people, and her skilled rendering of customs, politics, and daily habits of the time, you come to know the painting in profound new ways. The great pleasure of her prose brings Lisa Gheradini's world to vivid life. Anyone who loves art and Italy—and who doesn't?—will adore this book."
   —Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

"This is cultural history that reads like a detective novel as Dianne Hales tracks down the real woman behind one of the world's most famous and enigmatic faces. Expertly sleuthing her way through the treasure troves of archives and palazzos, she offers her own fascinating portrait not just of Lisa Gherardini but also of the vibrant Renaissance world that nurtured both Lisa and Leonardo's painting."
   —Ross King, Leonardo and the Last Supper

"Biography, history, and memoir are woven together in Hales' lyrical biography ... Hales scours archives, interrogates scholars and walks the streets of Florence, seeking traces of Gherardini in detail and in spirit. These first-person accounts reveal the author's deep kinship with Gherardini, and her quest endows human subjectivity to one of art history's greatest icons.

"This entertaining book... combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy, portrays Lisa Gherardini as a Renaissance Everywoman; Hales colors the blank spaces in her life with Renaissance cultural history, and considers the education she may have received, the etiquette she would have observed, what she would have eaten, what clothing she likely wore, the nature of her sex life, and much more. The result is an accessible, vivid examination of women's lives in Florence in the period."
   —Publishers Weekly

"An affectionate my-search-for story for art lovers and anyone interested in glorious and gory Florence in the 15th to 16th centuries and in the divine Leonardo in particular...3.5 of 4 stars."
   —USA Today

"An engaging account of a Renaissance woman"
   —Library Journal

"It's a joy to follow Dianne Hales' fascinating exploration into what's behind the world's most famous smile—an enchanting mix of fascinating history and passion-filled memoir."
   —Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

"Part travelogue, part narrative, part detective story, this is a book that will hold readers rapt."
   —Book Reviews for Avid Readers (Read the full review)

"[Dianne Hales] uses her talent as a story teller to make you see and feel what you are reading. The descriptions in this book are incredible."
   —Readful Things (Read the full review)

"Engaging...Hales, an experienced journalist, weaves the stories of Lisa, her older husband Francesco and Leonardo into a rich tapestry of family life, mercantile society, politics and artistic development....Particularly enthralling are Hales' near-cinematic descriptions of Florence's lively social life."

"Well-researched ...filled with the excitement Dianne Hales felt while doing all of that research...I highly recommend it."
   —YA Ramblings

"Thanks to meticulous research, Hales' biography-memoir-history lesson brings to life Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), the unforgettable face behind Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa."
   —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"The masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci is set into perfect and complete context by Dianne Hales... She shows clearly what is so special about this simple portrait on poplar, and why we can't—and shouldn't—break her spell."
   —Baton Rouge Advocate (Read the full review)

"A detailed and fascinating book that's scholarly yet presented in a way that's easy to understand and fun to read...highly recommended."
   — Italy Travel (Read the full review)

"A fascinating and vibrant discovery of just how much we can all relate to the iconic figure and her journey as a wife and mother"
   —"10 Must-Read Books for your Honeymoon," Brides Magazine

"Hales's study blends history and biography for a fascinating read about the lady with the mysterious smile."
   —Sons of Italy Book Club

"Anyone who reads Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered will never see the image again the same way. They will appreciate more the woman depicted, not just the artist."
   —San Antonio Express News

"Hales tours us through Renaissance Florence, introducing a fascinating cast of characters and giving a detailed history of the portrait."
   —Sacramento Bee

Read Chapter 1
View the Mona Lisa photo gallery