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MONA LISA: A Life Discovered

La Gioconda: Una Vita Svelata

It's true! Sto per rivelare la storia e i segreti  (I am about to reveal the story and the secrets) of Mona Lisa.  (My thanks to artist Melissa Muldoon, la studentessa matta, for the clever graphic.)

My quest for the real Mona Lisa began in Florence when I was doing research for LA BELLA LINGUA. An art historian who befriended me casually mentioned during a dinner at her home that the mother of La Gioconda, as Italians call Leonardo da Vinci's portrait, grew up in the very same building on Via Ghibellina.

I then came across newspaper reports about the discovery of documents from Mona Lisa's family–the Gherardini–by an archival sleuth named Giuseppe Pallanti. When we met on a rooftop terrace overlooking Lisa's childhood neighborhood, he marked an "X" on a tourist map to indicate the street  where she was born.

The moment I ventured onto squalid Via Sguazza, the journalist in me sensed a story just waiting to be told. I never guessed how many miles I’d trudge, how many experts I’d interview, how many tomes I’d read, how many drafts I’d write and rewrite and polish. Through it all I was inspired by Mona Lisa—a woman who became more real to me with every clue, every archival record, every insight. 

As an Italian friend noted, through my book Mona Lisa avrà una nuova vita (will have a new life).  It looks like it will be an exciting one.  Here are some early milestones, courtesy of my wonderful publicist Sarah Reidy at Simon & Schuster:

ML publicity screenshot 8-4-14

Amog the headlines that Mona is making:

*"How Mona Lisa's Smile Led to Love Affairs and Suicides," New York Post

*"A New Book on the Life of Mona Lisa," Tuscan Traveler 

*"MONA LISA: Behind the art world's most famous face,"BookPage

*"Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa in Florence," About.com Italy Travel

*"Mona Lisa: Bay Area Author Finds the Woman Behind the Smile,"  L’Italo-Americano 

Reviewers have called Mona's story "a rich tapestry" (BookPage) "entertaining" (Publishers Weekly), "engaging" (Library Journal) "lyrical" (Booklist),"flawless…written with passion and intensity" (Readful Things) USA Today gave 3.5 of 4 stars to an "affectionate my-search-for story" for lovers of art, Florence and history. I smiled at the Charlotte Observer's description of me as "a tenacious, curiosity-fueld prize-winning journalist who sweeps us up…in a fascinating read."

To all of you about to “meet” the real Mona Lisa: Buona lettura! Happy reading!

Words and Expressions

monna — correct Italian spelling for "Madame" Lisa;  mona is a parolaccia (naughty or bad word) in some parts of Italy  

giocondo — joyous, mirthful, cheery

giocondità – joy, cheerfulness, gaiety

Gherardiname — Gherardini-ness, the word Lisa's family used for their proud, feisty spirit

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.