Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mona Lisa’s Identity, Solved for Good?

Score another one for Occam’s razor: the sitter for the Mona Lisa was indeed named Lisa, according to German researchers. Lisa del Giocondo, to be exact. From Reuters:

Experts at the Heidelberg University library say dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book by its owner in October 1503 confirm once and for all that Lisa del Giocondo was indeed the model for one of the most famous portraits in the world.

“All doubts about the identity of the Mona Lisa have been eliminated by a discovery by Dr. Armin Schlechter,” a manuscript expert, the library said in a statement on Monday.

Mrs. Giocondo, whose maiden name was Gherardini, was married to a wealthy silk merchant in Florence and was first linked to the painting in 1550, about 50 years after it was finished. But doubts persisted and theories multiplied, including one about Mona Lisa being a man and another that she was Leonardo’s version of the ideal female, not a real person.

For all of those authors offering their theories, one expert had little sympathy after hearing the latest news. “One could even say that books written about all this in the past few years were unnecessary, had we known,” Frank Zoellner of Leipzig University told Reuters.

Among the unsurprised will be the staff of the Louvre, where the painting hangs. The museum doesn’t even have to change the masterpiece’s label — “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo” — though it may decide to delete one line from the description of the painting on its web site: “Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter.”

If it is indeed time to move on from the Mona Who? identity mystery, many other conundrums about the portrait persist. Millions of annual visitors who will now have less need to check her ID can instead puzzle over her inscrutable, seemingly mutable gaze.

That particular mystery was explored in a 2000 Times article by Sandra Blakeslee, who asked, “What is with this lady’s face? How did the great painter capture such a mysterious expression?”

The answer she received from a Harvard neuroscientist: It isn’t the painting, it’s you. Or rather, the quirky way your brain processes images.

read more | digg story

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