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Becoming Mona Lisa - Episode 1

Updated: Jan 13, 2022



We moved to our own new house in March, 1503 on Via Della Stufa. I met Leonardo next month when Francesco commissioned him for my portrait to celebrate the purchase of our new house. He was living in Cesena at that time, engaged as the Chief Military Engineer and Architect in the service of Cesare Borgia. Refulgence of his towering and versatile genius had spread even outside Italy. Affording him was too ambitious for my husband, besides his engagement in the service of Borgia was immensely demanding.

Renown of his portrayal of Cecilia Gallerani of Siena had influenced Francesco’s thought of commissioning him. Leonardo had demanded an exuberant amount of two thousand florins. The amount could have compelled even “The Merchant of Prato” Marco Datini and the Duke of Milano to consider his commissioning. But my prosperous husband was so ambitious that he refused to re-consider his decision.

I had once seen him in Milano, before the Louis XII’s Italian war started in 1499, though from a considerable distance. The most respected intellectual of Italy was surrounded by his votaries and aficionados. But, probably I was the greatest admirer of Leonardo in entire Italy. Nevertheless I was not comfortable with my husband’s decision.

He married me eight years ago, in the March of 1495. I was almost sixteen that spring, when my father Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini requested Francesco to accept me as his third wife. Though Gherardinis had lost their fortune and influence considerably, the name held good as earlier. For a prospering cloth and silk merchant, association with my family was significantly important. We had one son and two daughters by 1502.

Though he was prospering with remarkable enthusiasm, it was not earlier than March, 1503 when we could afford our own house. He bought the illustrious house for twelve hundred florins. Though he was prospering by leaps and bounds, parading one’s wealth was appointing Leonardo. Such an expensive exhibition of wealth might incite malevolence. One portrait, richer than a house, would avowedly not be appreciated. I had acquainted him about my concerns, but Francesco was one of the bravest men I had ever met. And resolute too. He had reassured me such delicately that all my concerns took refuge in certitude. It would have been mendacious of me had I said that I didn’t want Leonardo to portray me. No one was more able than him in those days.

Spring late afternoon of 1st April that was, when he arrived in our house after a wearisome journey from Cesena. I watched him entering our house with my husband from the window of my bedroom in the second floor. Before my husband could send for me, I stood in front of the mirror. A dark silk gown with a shoulder cape which held my loose light coloured sleeves was what I was wearing. The neckline was trimmed with golden embroidery. Sleeves were rolled back to elbow. I was wearing a comfortable yet firm corset underneath which held my bosoms unwaveringly, revealing my cleavage prominently through the low neck line of my gown. Though I let my dark, long and thick hair flow free I wore a black veil broached with my hair. Oh! I was so labile.

Our maid Taddea knocked my door. Composing myself I opened the door and asked her to convey her master that I would be there shortly. After few more moments I entered the salotto with as grace as a peacock’s train flaunt. He was seated on the most monarchical poltrona we had, majestic and demure like Dent d’Herens. Lustre of his wisdom and genius had illuminated the salotto. He rose like the risen Sun, kissed my hand and said as courteously as a man of his esteem could, “Buona sera, mia signora.” He was taller than Francesco, masculine than many Italian intellectuals, extremely bright and elegant, sharp nose, dreamy eyes with penetrative sight and shoulder-long hair. He was the charming prince of a remarkable fable. His touch awakened a reverberation of an undiscovered impetuousness.

Until the supper was served he played and talked with our children like no other of his age could. Piero, Camilia and Andrea were so gleesome that they refused to allow him for supper. However, he earned their permittance against unyielding commitment of playing with them entire next morning. Francesco escorted him towards tavolo da pranzo which was decorated in his honour. I had arranged a traditional short course dinner with Suffrito de Pollastri, Vermicelli and Diriola. Suffrito de Pollastri was a traditional Italian dish for generations, with chicken, special spices and lots of saffron. Diriola a custard tart was signature of Gherardinis. Lucrezia, our cook, had put her special spices in the Suffrito as the chicken was perfectly fried. For Diriola she outdid herself. Leonardo quietly savored each of the delicacies with satiety. Dining with a man of supreme excellence as him at the same tavolo remained only as a dream for many.

Vino Santo was quite rare in Via Della Stufa. Francesco had a business acquaintance in Sant’Antimo in Tuscany who was the principal supplier of our provisions for the “Holy Wine”. He served us. Leonardo took the same poltrona, while we took our facing him. Francesco started the conversation, “Signor Vinci, albeit not appropriate time this is as your lassitude has reached its confine, but please tell us when you want to commence your venture.”

‘Signor Francesco, I came here conceiving an image in mind which has lost all its colours.”

Thought of his refusal concealed my senses. Francesco also did not look unsecured.

“Radiance of Signora Lisa is far more than I had imagined that would be. Manifestation of such radiance can deplete a lifetime. So, amato signor Francesco, you will require patience to have. I earnestly hope that, my work will worth your patience.”

“Like the lady of Siena?” I interrupted him.

“Have you seen it, Signora?”

“No.” I said with a dull-witted smile, “Have heard about it.”

“Every woman is luminous in her own grace. Comparing is foolery."

Such a statement to a blue could have considered as utter impudicity. But, he was Leonardo da Vinci.

He looked at my husband, “Do you have any provision about the tenure of my residing here?”

“Not at all Signor, he instantaneously replied, “You can stay as long as it takes. Hosting you is our pride.”

“Grazie, Signor Francesco,” with a little pause he said, “Lombardi pioppo produces best canvas for such works. You need to procure some for me. Will you, Signor?”

“Of course, Signor Vinci, of course. Whatever it takes to make her radiance eternal.” He laughed. We laughed.

“But,” Leonardo said, “you have to procure that either from Milano or from Lombardi. They do not supply it to Florence.”

“I have connections in Milano. Let me know of the merchant.”

“That I will provide you tomorrow morning, if that is not inconvenient for you.”

“No, Signor. In fact, I was about to seek your permission for calling it a day so that you can retire to rest.”

“Lisa can guide you to your room. Sarà lei, mia cara?” I expressed my willingness and obedience with a smile.

“This way, signor,” I indicated towards the staircases.

He rose from poltrona and said, “After you, bella signora.”

Our guest room was at the first floor. The second one was for us and family. But for him we had arranged in the second floor. I guided him to his room, Taddea carried his luggage. “We have arranged our study as your studio at the first floor. We hope your stay here will be comfortable. If you are in need of anything be kind enough to tell me or Taddea” I told him.

“Not until tomorrow,” he replied. I was so happy. Indulged Francesco to make savage love with me that night to let him feel how grateful I was. Next morning at breakfast, he gave name and address of the merchant to Francesco. Francesco arranged to send the details to his contact in Milano that very day.

After the breakfast, with café in our salotto he told my husband, “till the poplars arrive I want to start with some sketches of her and want to see around for a place a suitable background that can be.”

“Splendido! We have arranged our study for you where you can work without any undue intrusion. I will keep my carriages at your disposal. And you will have to accept my sincere apologies, since I will not be of much assistance. The fair of Siena by Arte di Calimala of Florence is a place of fortune for cloth merchants. Merchants from Francia bring new designs, though Italian dyes are better than theirs.”

“I have seen their designs,” replied Leonardo, “those are really approvable. Wonderful art works, done by good craftsmen.”

“Indeed! Indeed!” Agreed Francesco.

“As our agreement signor Francesco, I will be enjoying your undeniably nonpareil hospitality till end of next month, if the poplars arrive in time. Otherwise, I will take your leave to serve signor Borgia. I will return at your service after two months. My services are of national importance there. Can I assume your understanding?”

“Of course, signor. Days of my hardship have taught me that for a magnificent outcome hard work and patience are greatly utile. In my absence, my immortal wife will take care of all the proceedings. I will depart tomorrow morning.”

“I wish you a mine of fortune, Signor Francesco. Now, if you grant your permission I want to have a look at my workplace.”

“Leonardo da Vinci does not require that of an obscure cloth merchant.” “No one is obscure, until he chooses to be.”

Francesco smiled and looked at me, “Mio amore, will you please guide him to the study.”

“This way Signor,” I showed him the way. In the study, on the easel was a veiled unfinished painting. Without waiting he unveiled the easel and looked on few moments. Then he turned to me with an inquirer look. I returned a concessive smile.

“Why has it not achieved finality?” He seemed displeased. I had no apposite answer.

“Art is too great to attract your inattention.” He said with great umbrage. I remained silent in shame. He looked around the room and seemed satisfied. I presumed his need and call Taddea to bring his painting tools.

“I will arrange everything and send for you, signora.” Not till afternoon he had sent for me. He asked me to settle on a chair beside the easel. Observing me from a distance he came to me and removed strands of hair from my cheek. His touch again shivered me. He started sketching. I witnessed how he sank in his art like the pebbles remain absorbed in river bed to realise the resonance of its supple waves. I had no idea how long I remained in that posture, but definitely my senses were not in me. They were dancing in the same tune as each of the strokes of his brushes.

“Are you feeling benumbed?” I regained my senses by his asking.

“No,” I could say that much.

He observed me for few moments before he said, “Only an artistic mind can be sou motionless, Lisa.” He called me by my name disintegrating all observance of nobility. A strange ardency oscillated the very fabric of my existence.

“Why am I feeling so disquiet?” My ardour was not for his ears.

“I will no more be neronian to you today. But I will prefer to look around Della Stufa tomorrow, if that will not be of much discomfort to you.” He expressed. “Will tomorrow late afternoon be a good time for you? I will be occupied in the morning for my husband’s departure.”

“That will be perfect. Now, with your permission I will take your leave to spend the rest of the day with the children.

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