Exclusive Interview with the "Mona Lisa" by our journalist Matthew Smith from the Adelaide Inquirer
Matthew Smith: "Thank you very much, Your Highness, for accepting my request for this interview."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "You are welcome, Mr. Smith. It is my pleasure! I can now help clean up that mess about my most famous portrait and Leonardo da Vinci."
Matthew Smith: "For centuries the experts on Renaissance paintings told us that you are the merchant's wife Lisa Gherardini. Please, could you tell us who you really are?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "My name is Isabella of Aragon. I am the elder daughter of the Neapolitan King Alfonso II, and I was the Duchess of Milan and the Duchess of Bari."
Fig. 1: Isabella of Aragon, still called "Mona Lisa"
Matthew Smith: "Leonardo da Vinci was your court painter for at least 11 years. Do you by chance know anything about a portrait painting he made of Lisa Gherardini? In his books, Giorgio Vasari told us that Leonardo da Vinci made a portrait of a certain "Mona Lisa" who was identified as Lisa Gherardini by the art historians."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No, Leonardo da Vinci never made a portrait of Lisa Gherardini. But he made a drawing of her sister-in-law Lisa del Giocondo."
Matthew Smith: "Have you seen this work?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Yes. Lisa del Giocondo was a beautiful woman. But Leonardo made only a drawing of her head, and then after loitering over it for four years he stopped working on it in 1507."
Matthew Smith: "Many suggestions have been made about who you are – for example, Pacifica Brandano."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Pacifica who?"
Matthew Smith: "Pacifica Brandano. She was a mistress of Giuliano de' Medici."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No, I doubt Leonardo ever met a woman of that name."
Matthew Smith: "Some art historians made the suggestion that the woman on your famous portrait painting is Isabella d'Este or Caterina Sforza."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Oh no, my cousins Isabella and Caterina both had blonde hair. Whoever made these claims must be colour-blind! I wished I had their hair. All men of my time loved women with blonde hair!"
Matthew Smith: "... and it isn't Leonardo da Vinci himself, dressed as a woman, is it?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Hahaha! That's so funny! You are not serious?"
Matthew Smith: "When was the original of your famous portrait made?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "In spring 1489! It is the official portrait of me as the new Duchess of Milan."
Fig. 2: One of the first portraits of Isabella of Aragon,
made by Leonardo da Vinci and not by
Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, c. 1489-90
Matthew Smith: "You are not wearing any jewellery. And the robe is very – sorry to say this – very boring."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "This is the official mourning dress of the Sforza Duchesses. We wear it for the last three months of a mourning year. My mother, Ippolita Maria Sforza, died on 19 October 1488. Are your women allowed to wear jewellery in a mourning year?"
Matthew Smith: "Frankly, I have no idea what women are allowed to wear during a mourning year. I don't even know that we still have something like a mourning year. But how can our experts be so wrong about your identity?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Don't ask me. Your so-called experts made a total mess of the portraits of my family! My mother, Ippolita Maria Sforza, and also my cousin, Caterina Sforza, have been identified as Simonetta Vespucci by them. And my cousin Ermes Maria Sforza is supposed to be a certain Gerolamo Casio, and my cousin Bona Sforza, a daughter of my uncle Lodovico il Moro Sforza, is a certain Maddalena Doni. A drawing of the grandfather of Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio da Vinci, has been identified as a portrait of Leonardo himself. My eldest daughter Bona Maria Sforza was declared to be the mistress of our dear friend Raphael on one of his portraits of her. And now a portrait of Angela Borgia Lanzol has been identified to be my dear cousin Bianca Sforza. Unbelievable! I could continue ... but I think you've got the picture. Your so-called experts are far from being real experts. Don't be so gullible and believe in everything they are saying!"
Matthew Smith: "I do not know if you heard about the ridiculous claim that you were married to Leonardo da Vinci."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Of course I have been married to him!"
Matthew Smith: "You HAVE?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Yes! The German-born Australian historian Maike Vogt-Lüerssen and her supporters are the only hope left for Leonardo and me that in 2019 – the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death – the truth about us will finally be told. Those silly assumptions about us have to stop once and for all. And by the way: "ridiculous claim"? Did you read the books or articles of the author?"
Matthew Smith: "No."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "It is very interesting that you express yourself in such a way when you haven't read any of her works."
Matthew Smith: "When did you marry Leonardo da Vinci?"
Fig. 3: Isabella of Aragon as Pomona, 1497
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "On 28 June 1497."
Matthew Smith: "Why didn't our experts find anything in the Milanese archives about this?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "It was a clandestine marriage. Clearly a lot has changed in the last five hundred years! Nowadays a high noble man or woman is allowed to marry beneath his and her status. Think only of that handsome Prince William in England! It was forbidden in my time, but we did not always obey this rule. Many men and women of the high nobility did the same as me and married a person below their status."
Matthew Smith: "Was this a real marriage?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Yes. We married in front of a priest and many witnesses, and we had a marriage contract."
Matthew Smith: "But this marriage contract could not be found in the Milanese archives."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No, of course not. If that were the case, every servant would have been able to discover our secret! It's not called "a clandestine marriage" without reason."
Matthew Smith: "This author, Maike Vogt-Lüerssen, also claims that you and Leonardo da Vinci had five children."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Yes that it correct: Francesco da Melzo, Giovanna, Maria, Antonio and Isabella".
Matthew Smith: "Sorry, I'm quite stunned by all this ... You really had children with Leonardo da Vinci! What was life with this great artist and genius like?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Wonderful, very interesting and never boring!"
Matthew Smith: "Was he a difficult man?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No. He was the most handsome, most friendly and most intelligent man I ever met in my life. He was so funny. My children and I often ended up with stomach cramps from all our laughing about his jokes. And he had so many funny ideas. The children loved their father so much. They couldn't await his homecoming. He had the most beautiful voice and I loved listening to his songs and his music ..."
Matthew Smith: "In 1516 Leonardo wrote in his notebook: "Li Medici creorono e destrussono" = "The Medici made me and they destroyed me." Our experts were not able to explain this comment."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Lorenzo de' Medici discovered the talents of my husband in 1480, and he recommended him to the best friends of his family, my family, the Sforza. This was the start of a wonderful career. But Pope Leo X alias Giovanni de' Medici "destroyed" his life. Leonardo had taken over the project to drain the Pontine Marshes in 1515. This was a dangerous area. Hence many people who worked there got very sick and died. Leonardo got very sick, too. But he did not give himself a minute's rest in this year. We really thought we would have lost him in January/February 1516. He became so sick. Fortunately he recovered, but he could no longer use his right hand. He could not paint any longer."
Fig. 4: Isabella of Aragon, when she was a middle-aged woman
Matthew Smith: "I have to interrupt you here. You said he could not use his right hand any longer. But I thought he made his paintings and drawings only with his left hand."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Who said this? Oh, I forgot, your experts said this. Forget it. Leonardo had been trained to paint with his right hand in the workshop of his master Andrea del Verrocchio – like all painters!! Yes, he was able to write with his left hand. We admired him for this skill. But he painted with his right hand. When he was drawing he often used both of his hands. But he painted only with his right hand. Leonardo was devastated and very depressed when he could no longer use his right hand in 1516. He felt so useless."
Matthew Smith: "According to our experts, he became the court painter of the French King François I in 1516."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No, not in 1516. He was with me and the family in Italy that year. I would know that, wouldn't I? Leonardo also made a note in his books in August 1516 that he was working in Rome. He can't be in two different places at the same time, can he?"
Matthew Smith: "But Leonardo went to France and was the court painter of this French king? Is this at least correct?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "It is both correct and not correct. Leonardo could, of course, no longer paint, and what is a painter worth who can't paint? He needed the help of his colleague Andrea del Sarto. He was the true court painter of the French king."
Matthew Smith: "But why was he in France?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "My family and the friends of my family had a big problem after the death of the Spanish King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who died on 23rd of January 1516. His successor was the lad Charles (V), a member of the greedy and very ambitious Habsburgs. And this young man of 15 years decided to make peace with our enemies in Naples!! You should read the book of Maike Vogt-Lüerssen. She explains everything in detail. If Charles (V) would have enforced his plan, all the friends of our dynasty and I and my children would have lost everything. We needed a powerful ally. We needed the friendship of the French king, the arch-enemy of the Habsburgs. Therefore Leonardo was sent as our secret agent to France in 1517."
Matthew Smith: "A painter as a secret agent?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Many court painters were used as secret agents. The most famous ones are Jan van Eyck, Ambrogio de Predis, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens ... You didn't know that, did you?"
Matthew Smith: "No. But Leonardo died in France in 1519."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Yes."
Matthew Smith: " ... and he was buried there!"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "No."
Matthew Smith: "But we have his grave in Amboise! Millions of people are flocking there every year to be at the side of his grave."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "I do not know who was buried there. But it was definitely not my husband. I KNOW that."
Matthew Smith: "Nobody can prove that."
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Just a moment. [Isabella is opening a piece of paper, which she holds in her hand]. Leonardo gave me something. He is still very interested in everything what your scientists are doing. He says: "Nowadays you can do DNA tests to prove these kinds of claims. In Florence there are still the remains of my father." By the way, two of our children, Maria and Antonio, have been buried next to me in the church San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. [Isabella looks again at the piece of paper] Leonardo says, mitochondrial DNA tests will confirm that they are our – or at least – my children."
Matthew Smith: "So Leonardo has not been buried in France. In Italy then?"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Of course! Oh ... [Isabella is pointing upwards] ... I hear that my time for this interview is over. I have to go."
Matthew Smith: "There are still so many questions!"
"Mona Lisa"/Isabella of Aragon: "Sorry, I have to go. Please do me a favour: clean up the mess made by your experts and start anew in your research about Leonardo da Vinci and me!"
Matthew Smith: "Thank you, Your Highness! I hope we can meet again. And please the warmest greetings to your husband!"