By Joseph S Matewa
Madame Lisa! Of course I’m not referring to your junior school teacher, the one who had braces. I barely even know her, neither do I know if she still has the braces or not. I mean MONA LISA, not just the painting that is an epitome of Da Vinci’s genius, but the flesh and blood Lisa Gerardhini, the beauty behind the painting. The Florentine wife of Francesco del Giocondo, married at fifteen whose portrait -currently displayed in a museum in France, hiding behind a bullet-proof glass – is worth more than most industries today. In the strictest sense of the word, Lisa might not have been a professional model but her portrait, like modern-day photography, sits at the heart of modelling. And considering the ethics of 16th century Italy, she might as well have been a Kardashian! Modelling has always been at the very heart of art. Over time, with the progress of technology, simple paintings of models have evolved into colour enriched complex photographs, and modelling itself has metarmophosised from drawings of art and beauty into motion graphics showing fashion trends and cultures. Modelling now and modelling three centuries ago are very different beasts. Back then, modelling was no profession. Occasionally the rich could afford to spend a few hundreds on a portrait painted by the best artists, unlike now when photography isn’t as expensive thanks to smart phones housing good cameras. Therefore, for Lisa to have had a painting of herself done by such an artist as Leonardo Da Vinci was no mean feat. Surprisingly though, Lisa wasn’t born rich! There isn’t much referencing Lisa to anything. It’s no surprise, since history isn’t as lenient with “nobodies”. She was born in Naples, Italy and grew up there. She was the eldest of seven children , having 3 brothers and 3 sisters, and her mother was the third marriage on her father’s side. They weren’t rich, but you couldn’t label them poor. The Gerardhini name had good history in Italy, they had once been rich, but over time the wealth had deteriorated. Lisa grew up at a farm owned by her family. We are introduced to Francesco del Giocondo, a well off cloth and silk merchant. They married when Lisa was only fifteen, and it is after about one year into their marriage that Francesco asked Leonardo to paint a picture of his third wife, Lisa. There is a lot of history that goes with the picture. The painting’s genesis was in October 1503, and surprisingly wasn’t finished until around 1513. It didn’t get instant attention until well later than sixty years after Lisa died.Since then, it has acquired so much value, currently being priced at $800 million, and is titled as the world’s most valuable painting. You can find it hanging behind a bullet-proof glass at a museum in Louvre, Paris. Here is where I marry the Mona Lisa to Modelling. The painting itself has a lot of significance to the cultures and expectation in 16th century Italy. To begin with, the way the lady is seated, with her right hand over her left, is the way Italian women were expected to act. It is a sign of respect to the husband. The smile that dances on her lips isn’t very broad but calm and composed, showing a well-built cool character. Even the apparel she wears isn’t cheap, but is rich fabric that shows beauty of dress. The painting is everything modern day modelling advocates. It is expression, it is beauty and it is prudence. The depth of the meaning in the picture is shown historically in how many attempts have been made in history to claim the picture back for Italy. Even now, in an era of nude photography and self-expression, the Mona Lisa stands a vixen of photography anda guideline in modelling.