Title: Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
Author: Dianne Hales
Source: from publisher via NetGalley
Review Summary: This wasn’t the most organized nonfiction I’ve read, but the author did an amazing job bringing the people and time period to life.
Although the Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world, little is known about the real woman represented in the painting. There is even some speculation about which woman was Da Vinci’s model. Lisa Gherardini is the most likely candidate and in this book, Dianne Hales brings together what is known about Lisa’s life. She also uses this “quintessential woman of her times” to explore what life was like for women in Florence during the Renaissance.
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.