Staring Down the Patriarchy

We all know her name, or do we???

Here in the U.S., we call the woman behind the enigmatic smile Mona Lisa.

But in Italy she’s known as La Gioconda. Why La Gioconda? Based on the mid-sixteenth century biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Giorgio Vasari, it is believed the painting is a portrait of Madam Lisa Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florentine, whose sur name was Gioconda. It is from Vasari that the painting received the name Mona Lisa.

Now, from a historical perspective, the Renaissance wasn’t horrible for women, but it was clearly still a man’s world. In those days, women were not even counted on the census, and that is why there is no indisputable record of Lisa.

Point in proof: In the annuals of history, not one sentence is recorded from the lips of Lisa herself, though there are about a hundred million words from the man who painted her, Leonardo da’ Vinci. I like to think that what she wasn’t able to express with her words, she said with her eyes.

But I would have really, really, really loved to have been able to read what she herself thought of her portrait.

Somehow, though, she knew how to get her point across. That look that follows you everywhere — indulge me on this — that’s Lisa staring down the patriarchy.

The Mona Lisa has been on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.

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