Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I, Mona Lisa

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

What would I rather do than sit at my kids’ track meets? Read I, Mona Lisa. I LOVE watching my kids compete, but during the combined 10 hours of track meets/practices last week, my mind kept wandering back to this book! My eyes were on my kids, but my heart was with Lisa.*

Mona Lisa. My impression has always been a bland-looking girl with a smirky smile in a dark dress. In 15th century Florence, Italy, however, Mona Lisa was actually Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, a wealthy and beautiful young woman with a mysterious background.

Two Masterpieces (get it?)

When Steve and I visited the Louvre in Paris last month (I’m still reeling that I can say that!), we had to see this iconic painting. To be honest, it looked pretty insignificant against the large, empty wall, but the crowds and cameras reminded me that it is something special. I won’t even pretend—I am an ignoramus when it comes to art—but I did learn in this book that the Mona Lisa was distorted by other artists’ retouchings over the centuries. According to the author, fifty years after its completion by da Vinci, someone named Vasari described "the fresh bloom of pink on Lisa’s lips, the blush on her cheeks, the vein in her neck that seems almost to be beating." Sadly, those details in the original painting have been lost.

In the book, Madonna (or Mona) Lisa is a young girl swept up in the political unrest of Florence. She finds that she is tied to a murder which occurred a decade before her birth, and becomes linked to the turmoil caused by a popular but fanatical preacher named Savonarola. I, Mona Lisa is a smartly written and engaging novel with an aura of mystery throughout. I completely loved it. As historical fiction it is based on a series of events from 1478-1498, with main characters including the powerful Medici family, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. That the people and events are (mostly) real make the story all the more thrilling. There are many instances of violence (some sexual), so I wouldn’t recommend this book to a teen.

In the book’s commentary, the author admits that little is actually known about Lisa Gherardini. But I love the way she fleshes out the character and creates a story behind the story.

*I kid, my heart belongs to my kids. 


  1. I really liked this book too, thanks for writing about it

  2. Amy, I knew you'd like it! I just had a hunch.