The Mona Lisa according to Giorgio Vasari

Portrait of Lisa Gerardini, spouse of Francesco del Giocondo said «Mona Lisa, la Gioconda» or «the Joconde»
Portrait of Lisa Gerardini, spouse of Francesco del Giocondo said «Mona Lisa, la Gioconda» or «the Joconde»

The description of the Mona Lisa presented below was written by Giorgio VASARI and published in Florence in 1550.
It is the best known, oldest and most reliable of these to date. As such, it has influenced most of the subsequent descriptions.
Vasari describes a painting that he himself has not seen because the painting is then in Fontainebleau where Vasari never went.
The description tells us about the reputation of the work: it was performed in Florence in 1503, Leonardo da Vinci worked there for 4 years, it represents Francesco Del Giocondo's wife, referred to as “M[ad]on[n]a Lisa”, “Madame Lise”.
But moreover, it allows us to get what was making its value in the eyes of Vasari.


Leonardo undertook to execute, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife, and after he had lingered over it for four years, he left it unfinished; “and the work is today in the possession of King Francis of France, at Fontainebleau.
Anyone wishing to see the degree to which art could imitate nature could readily perceive this from the head; since therein are counterfeited all those minutenesses that with subtlety are able to be painted: seeing that the eyes had that lustre and moistness which are always seen in the living creature, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution.
The eyebrows, through his having shown the manner in which the hairs spring from the flesh, here more close and here more scanty, and curve according to the pores of the flesh, could not be more natural.
The nose, with its beautiful nostrils, rosy and tender, appeared to be alive.
The mouth with its opening, and with its ends united by the red of the lips to the flesh-tints of the face, seemed, in truth, to be not colours but flesh.
In the pit of the throat, if one gazed upon it intently, could be seen the beating of the pulse: and indeed it may be said that it was painted in such a manner as to make every brave artificer, be he who he may, tremble and lose courage.
He employed also this device: Mona Lisa being very beautiful, while he was painting her portrait, he retained those who played or sang, and continually jested, who would make her to remain merry, in order to take away that melancholy which painters are often wont to give to their portraits.
And in this work of Leonardo there was a smile so pleasing, that it was a thing more divine than human to behold, and it was held to be something marvelous, in that it was not other than alive.

Giorgio Vasari, “Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects”, book IV

You can help improve the content of this article by proposing your modification of the text from the following link. modify this page