Who Was The Real Mona Lisa?

When you're one of the most famous inventors of the Renaissance era and one of your inventions is a helicopter, it seems strange that your most enduring creation is a tiny painting. Then again, Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous and well-liked artwork in history, so maybe Leonardo da Vinci isn't exactly spinning in his grave over this fact. 

The thing is, who exactly is Mona Lisa? Was she just some lady da Vinci conjured from his considerable imagination? Was she an actual woman who could somehow wear that mysterious half-smile for the time it took for her to pose for an entire painting? (And if so, how did she deal with the face cramps?) Or was she, as ABC News tells us some researchers suspect, merely a stealthy self-portrait of the artist in drag? The world needs to know! 

The real Mona Lisa was most likely Lisa Ghirardini

While PBS notes that some speculate Mona Lisa is an amalgamation of multiple women, or perhaps one of da Vinci's young disciples in women's clothing, neither theory is the most likely answer to the lady's true identity. As the Louvre art museum's website tells us, Mona Lisa is generally thought to be a portrait of Lisa Ghirardini, an Italian noblewoman who was married to a merchant called Francesco del Giocondo. This, incidentally, explains the painting's alternate name, 'La Giaconda.' 

However, even the Louvre admits that basically everything else about the painting is a complete mystery. We know that da Vinci started painting it in Florence around 1503, but no one really knows who commissioned it, or why he hauled it with him for years without ever wrapping it up and delivering it to its rightful owner. Maybe the answers are hidden behind that enigmatic smile.