I, Mona Lisa

I, Mona Lisa

by Jeanne Kalogridis

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"My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa. My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born…"

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.

More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths. Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake. But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.

Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312341398
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 813,442
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Jeanne Kalogridis lives with her partner on the West Coast, where they share a house with two dogs. She is the author of The Borgia Bride, The Scarlet Contessa, The Devil's Queen, and other dark fantasy and historical novels. Born in Florida, Kalogridis has a B.A. in Russian and a master's in linguistics, and taught English as a second language at The American University for eight years before retiring to write full-time.

Read an Excerpt

I, Mona Lisa

By Kalogridis, Jeanne

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2006 Kalogridis, Jeanne
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312341393

Chapter One

My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, though to acquaintances I am known simply as Madonna Lisa, and to those of the common class, Monna Lisa.
My likeness has been recorded on wood, with boiled linseed oil and pigments dug from earth or crushed from semiprecious stones and applied with brushes made from the feathers of birds and the silken fur of animals.
I have seen the painting. It does not look like me. I stare at it and see instead the faces of my mother and father. I listen and hear their voices. I feel their love and their sorrow, and I witness, again and again, the crime that bound them together; the crime that bound them to me.
For my story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born.
It was first revealed to me during an encounter with the astrologer two weeks before my birthday, which was celebrated on the fifteenth of June. My mother announced that I would have my choice of a present. She assumed that I would request a new gown, for nowhere has sartorial ostentation been practiced more avidly than my native Florence. My father was one of the city's wealthiest wool merchants, and his business connections afforded me my pick of sumptuous silks, brocades, velvets, and furs.
But I did not want a gown. I had recently attended the wedding of my uncle Lauro and his youngbride, Giovanna Maria. During the celebration afterward, my grandmother had remarked sourly:
"It cannot last happily. She is a Sagittarius, with Taurus ascendant. Lauro is Aries, the Ram. They will constantly be butting heads."
"Mother," my own had reproached gently.
"If you and Antonio had paid attention to such matters--" My grandmother had broken off at my mother's sharp glance.
I was intrigued. My parents loved each other, but had never been happy. And I realized that they had never discussed my stars with me.
When I questioned my mother, I discovered that my chart had never been cast. This shocked me: Well-to-do Florentine families often consulted astrologers on important matters, and charts were routinely drawn up for newborns. And I was a rare creature: an only child, the bearer of my family's hopes.
And as an only child, I was well aware of the power I possessed; I whined and pleaded pitifully until my reluctant mother yielded.
Had I known then what was to follow, I would not have pressed so hard.
Because it was not safe for my mother to venture out, we did not go to the astrologer's residence, but instead summoned him to our palazzo.
From a window in the corridor near my bedroom, I watched as the astrologer's gilded carriage, its door painted with his familial crest, arrived in the courtyard behind our house. Two elegantly appointed servants attended him as he stepped down, clad in a farsetto, the close-fitting man's garment which some wore in place of a tunic. The fabric was a violet velvet quilt, covered by a sleeveless brocade cloak in a darker shade of the same hue. His body was thin and sunken-chested, his posture and movements imperious.
Zalumma, my mother's slave, moved forward to meet him. Zalumma was a well-dressed lady-in-waiting that day. She was devoted to my mother, whose gentleness inspired loyalty, and who treated her slave like a beloved companion. Zalumma was a Circassian, from the high mountains in the mysterious East; her people were prized for their beauty and Zalumma--tall as a man, with black hair and eyebrows and a face whiter than marble--was no exception. Her tight ringlets were formed not by a hot poker but by God, and were the envy of every Florentine woman. At times, she muttered to herself in her native tongue, which sounded like no language I had ever heard; she called it "Adyghabza."
Zalumma curtsied, then led the man into the house to meet my mother. She had been nervous that morning, no doubt because the astrologer was the most prestigious in town and had, when the Pope's forecaster had taken ill, even been consulted by His Holiness. I was to remain out of view; this first encounter was a business matter, and I would be a distraction.
I left my room and stepped lightly to the top of the stairs to see if I could make out what was going on two floors below me. The stone walls were thick, and my mother had shut the door to the reception chamber. I could not even make out muffled voices.
The meeting did not last long. My mother opened the door and called for Zalumma; I heard her quick steps on the marble, then a man's voice.
I retreated from the stairs and hurried back to the window, with its view of the astrologer's carriage.
Zalumma escorted him from the house--then, after glancing about, handed him a small object, perhaps a purse. He refused it at first, but Zalumma addressed him earnestly, urgently. After a moment of indecision, he pocketed the object, then climbed into his carriage and was driven away.
I assumed that she had paid him for a reading, though I was surprised that a man with such stature would read for a slave. Or perhaps my mother had simply forgotten to pay him.
As she walked back toward the house, Zalumma happened to glance up and meet my gaze. Flustered at being caught spying, I withdrew.
I expected Zalumma, who enjoyed teasing me about my misdeeds, to mention it later; but she remained altogether silent on the matter.
Copyright 2006 by Jeanne Kalogridis. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from I, Mona Lisa by Kalogridis, Jeanne Copyright © 2006 by Kalogridis, Jeanne. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Historical Perspective

The Medici Family of Florence: A Time Line

April 26, 1478

Lorenzo's brother, Giuliano de' Medici, is murdered in the cathedral of Santa Maria della Fiore

December 1479

Leonardo da Vinci sketches the executed Bernardo Baroncelli

March 15, 1479

Recorded date of Lisa di Antonio Gherardini's birth


Leonardo leaves Florence for Milan

April 8, 1492

Lorenzo de' Medici dies

November 8, 1494

Piero de' Medici and his brothers are expelled from Florence

Medici brothers eventually settle in Rome

November 17, 1494

Charles VIII of France and his army enter Florence

March 5, 1495

Lisa Gherardini marries Francesco del Giocondo


February 7, 1497

Savonarola's "bonfire of the vanities"

April 7, 1498

The infamous "trial by fire"

May 23, 1498

Savonarola executed


December 28, 1503

Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici drowns in the Garigliano River

August 1512

Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici welcomed home as Florence's ruler

March 11, 1513

Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici elected Pope (Leo X)


Leonardo travels to France. King Francis I purchases the Mona Lisa. The painting remains in France at the Louvre Museum to this day.

Recommended Reading

Brucker, Gene A.

Renaissance Florence.

Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Gatti, Claudio, in association with the International Herald Tribune.

Florence in Detail: A Guide for the Expert Traveler.

New York: Rizzoli, 2003.

Kent, F. W.

Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence.

Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Letze, Otto and Thomas Buchsteiner.

Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist.

Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 1997.

Martines, Lauro.

April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Vasari, Giorgio.

The Lives of the Artists.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

da Vinci, Leonardo.

A Treatise on Painting.

Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2002.

Reading Group Questions

1. Few works of art are as romanticized, celebrated, and reproduced as the Mona Lisa. How did reading this book teach you about—or change your impression of—the art world's most famous face? Has anyone in the group ever seen it in person?

2. Beautiful, enigmatic, sly, foreboding...many adjectives have been used to describe Lisa's portrait. But what words would you use to describe Lisa's character? Also, take a moment to talk about her role—as an only daughter, married woman, and member of the upper class—in Florentine society. How was Lisa different from other women of her era? Do you think she was a woman ahead of her time?

3. Lisa is told by her astrologer that she is "caught in a cycle of violence, of blood, and deceit." To what extent does Lisa let fate dictate her actions? Do you believe in fate? Discuss the themes of prophecy in I, Mona Lisa.

4. In addition to being religious, many of those we meet in the book become fanatic—and commit acts of violence to justify their beliefs. What was it that led Antonio, Baroncelli, and Savonarola to behave the way they did? Do you condone any of their actions? Do you have any sympathy for them?

5. Who do you think bears the true responsibility for the deaths of Giuliano the Elder and Anna Lucrezia? How do the various characters—from Lisa to Antonio to Lorenzo—deal with the guilt, trauma, and mystery surrounding the deaths of those they love?

6. What is significant about the third man involved in Giuliano's murder? How does this element of mystery drive the narrative?

7. I, Mona Lisa is a novel about truth and beauty, art and artifice. It is also about family—in all its glory and bloodshed. How important is the notion of family to each of the main characters? Which relationships are the most "real" to you in this book?

8. Do you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words? Can a work of art—a painting, a book—ever truly capture a person's essence? Did Leonardo's portrait of Lisa capture hers?

9. When Lisa views her cartoon she remarks that Leonardo's "recall of [her] features is astonishing...more sacred, more profound than any image rendered by [a] mirror." Why do you think she feels this way? Does Leonardo see himself in Lisa? What personality traits do you think they both share?

10. Leonardo is more than just an artist: He doesn't just view society from a distance; he is a member of a powerful inner circle. What does I, Mona Lisa suggest about the role and function of art during the Florentine era? Was it more or less political than it is now?

11. What, do you think, is the meaning of the last sentence of the book?

Customer Reviews

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I, Mona Lisa 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Hill_Ravens More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a delightful find! A trip through ancient Italy with an all star cast, da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Medici family, the Pazzi family and of course Mona Lisa and her family. The book is a good blend of historical fiction and non-fiction creating a garden of delightful tales in an otherwise bloody point in Florence's history. A new twist as to who Mona Lisa is, at least one I haven't heard of before; and a well told family story to go along with it. The book has everything one could want; action, adventure, villains, unlikely heroes, tragedy, murder, passion, revenge. I am looking forward to trying another book by Jeanne Kalogridis, her writing style was a breath of fresh air and built a world that was not only believable but somewhere I didn't want to leave when the book ended. Godere!
ioancoraimparo More than 1 year ago
The story takes place in Renaissance Florence and incorporates many sites, people and events of the period. The portrait of Savanarola is strong, and seems quite accurate, however, it appears the author has taken quite a bit of liberties with other actual people, and that's confusing and disconcerting. It would be better if she'd limited her imagination to those characters she invented while constraining her accounts of historial people by actual, reliable facts. Aside from that it is an interesting read, painting a vivid picture of upper class lifestyles during this period against the poverty of the struggling worker classes. It also quite accurately portrays the instability of a government that yearned to be a republic as long as their own people where in charge, and the ruthless tactics required to retain power. But if that truly interests you, read Machiavelli. This is fiction and should be read as such. Slow starting, gains interest about mid-way. Characters are lively, but not always well-developed. Some are even conflicting. However, the suspense builds and is not resolved until the very end, which does make for a good story.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Far-fetched but enjoyable tale of the lady behind the mysterious smile in the portrait of the Mona Lisa. Lisa Ghirardini, who later becomes the wife of Francesco Giacondo, a well-to-do merchant in Florence, becomes involved in treachery, murder, and religious terror during the time of Savonarola (who seems to have been given a bum rap by history). Ms. Kalogridis plays fast and loose with historical facts when Lisa marries Giuliano de Medici, who actually married a member of a prominent family, while Lisa remained married to Francesco Giocomo for decades and bore him several children. But never mind that, the story is a real page-turner and could even be classified as a thriller. Good reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction and this book was a great read!
KirstenMarie More than 1 year ago
Overall, I really liked this book. Because I read through it so fast, sometimes I would confuse certain characters. The plot was really well done and I certainly applaud that! I think the very beginning of the book could have moved a bit faster as well. The Lisa and Guiliano romance had a strong Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, but that was okay with me. I would recommend this book to any historical fiction reader.
vanilla2976 More than 1 year ago
This book was great! The reader gets to meet so many famous characters of the Italian Renaissance. I had some misgivings about whether it would be cheesy to try to make a story about how a painting came about, but they were quickly proven unfounded. I thouroughly enjoyed this one. I bought it forever ago and only recently read it because I had some issues with the download. But they fixed it & all is well.
jayde1599 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a great book! The author bring Renaissance Florence to life. The story follows Lisa di Antonio Gherardini as she is caught in a spiral of deceit, love, and murder. Thirteen years before her birth, Giuliano de Medici is assassinated in an attempt to overthrow the Medici power. His brother Lorenzo survives and takes revenge. Upon his death, many years later a fanatic preacher gains popularity and wants to destroy all items that display wealth. Florence and Lisa's family are threatened. The story is riveting and I could hardly put it down! The history appears factual and feels as if you are in 15th century Florence. The story puts an interesting twist on the famous face painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Recommended! 4 1/2 stars
vernefan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love & Loss: The Life of Leonardo¿s Lisa Jeanne Kalogridis' historical fiction masterpiece, I, Mona Lisa, presents in entirety an aura of elegance most intriguing. One minute glimmering with the opulence of Renaissance Florence, the next dripping with the bloodshed of war and personal vendettas. There is no question that the author is one of the finest writers of period literature, leaving no minute detail out. Her pen flourishes as she lavishly paints a very realistic portrait of Florence Italy in it's prime. Not much is actually known of Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, the young and enchanting woman Leonardo da Vinci chose as his model for the Mona Lisa. With that fact Jeanne Kalogridis could indulge in free liberty, giving herself reign to create a character so believable that when you turn the last page, you will feel the author has written a biography. Her Mona Lisa becomes a heroine you will never be able to forget. At a little over 500 pages the reader immediately becomes immersed in the grandiose city of Florence; it's grand architecture, glorious costumes, and many talented artisans that built magnificent cathedrals, carved life-like marble statues, toiled brushstroke after brushstroke over paintings that graced every church and affluent Florentine home. Readers will revel in the art worlds of Michaelangelo, Botticelli, and of course this story's hero, talented and sweet, Leonardo da Vinci, whom you will see in a different light than you've ever seen him before. Our smiling Lisa is a young girl when we open the first page. She is the daughter of a wool merchant and a captivating mother who had once caught the eye of Giuliano de Medici, brother of the elite Lorenzo, known as Il Magnifico. Before long Lisa's world is catapulted into many woven tangled webs that include death and deceit, murder and betrayal, love and passion, and mysteries that will take her many years to unravel. She is swept up into the decadent lives of the de Medici family and is taken under their wing, her a mere peasant, mysteriously loved and protected by one the most wealthiest families in Italy. A family of power who one minute relishes in their ability to bring art and culture to their city, yet in another can order a swift slice of a sword that can bring destruction and death without remorse. Lisa learns she has a part to play in their chaotic political games and discovers she may not be who she thought she was. In fact a major part of this riveting tale is the puzzle of who her true father is. Baited, deceived and used as an instrument for religious and politic gain, Lisa time and time again proves to the world she is clever and can match her tormentors eye for eye and come out winning, each and every time they bring her down. Throughout this marvelous novel, Lisa is tested for her strength and perseverance during many difficult scenarios that bring her love and loss many times over. She learns that all is not always as it seems, and that the ones you love and trust the most, can be the cause of your downfall and destruction, while others you believe are perfect strangers can be secret allies deviously plotting for your success. There is a tiny bit of predictability as the reader can imagine how it will all end but for 90% of this lengthy novel you will totally be enraptured and captivated as the author navigates you into world of Renaissance Italy. I can find no fault with this book and can not give it any higher stars than I am allowed. Standing ovation, for historical fiction this is exquisite!
tibobi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Historical Fiction told through the eyes of Mona Lisa. An easy read but very predictible. Often found myself comparing it to The Da Vinci Code. Although it contains elements of romance and mystery.. there were no surprises.
BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I, Mona Lisa is another breathtaking, fabulous historical novel by Jeanne Kalogridis. Bringing a keen eye for detail and a marvelous pen to Renaissance Italy, Kalogridis weaves a compelling tale of jealousy, passion, secrets, lies and power where she attempts to unravel the strange secrets behind Leondardo di Vinci's most famous piece of art.I, Mona Lisa follows the life of Italian noblewoman Lisa, the subject of de Vinci's Mona Lisa through the tumultuous changes in Italy and the fall of the powerful Medici family. After Lisa's mother dies, she knows life won't ever be the same. Around the same time she meets Giuliano de Medici, and the pair fall in love. Despite her's father's warnings and the growing political undercurrents against the Medicis, Lisa marries Guiliano. After his sudden death, Lisa is swept up into the political intrigue and delicately woven plots among the Italian nobility and learns a dark, yet shocking secret about her family.Written in a clear and passionate voice, I, Mona Lisa a thrilling, well-written picture of the past that keeps readers flipping pages (really, don't let the thickness fool you). This novel gave an interesting spin on a unique approach to the time and its happenings. I particularly enjoyed Kalogridis' depiction of the 15th century, it felt incredibly real and served as the perfect setting for this well-crafted and compelling tale.
Ames3473 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awesome book! I love the time period!
alexis3700 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I learned so much from this work of historical fiction! What an amazing story. Lisa di Antonio Gherardini was a very sympathetic character. Granted it was a ficitonalized account of 15th century Florence, it really came alive. It was believable and well constructed. I thought the ending was a bit too easy, but satisfying.
drpeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entertaining, meaning not very deep, but enjoyable. I didn¿t want to put it down.
MsDollie More than 1 year ago
Very good read. Fictionalized storyline was fast paced, with romance, mystery and wonderful historic detail of actual historic events and characters. I would consider reading again and highly recommend it for a first time read.
StacieRosePittard More than 1 year ago
On one hand this is a very well written book with lots of research behind it. I was drawn in right away, and my interest held through the entire novel. I learned a lot about historical Florence, particularly dealing with the Medici dynasty. It was a captivating novel all the way through and I fully enjoyed it. However, I can only give it three stars. It is obvious the author put in a lot of research. The novel was packed with historical information. That is why it was severely disappointing how she portrayed the main character Lisa. Lisa del Giocondo was a real person, and scholars are pretty certain that she is the face behind the famous Mona Lisa. While she made an effort to stick with actual history when dealing with the general atmosphere of the setting, she completely dismissed the history behind Lisa del Giocondo and the Mona Lisa. The Lisa in the book is in a situation completely opposite from the real life Lisa. In a Q&A section in the back of the book, the author spoke of how she wouldn't change what is historical fact. Unfortunate that is exactly what she did with Lisa's character. At one point she mentioned that there was not a lot known about Lisa del Giocondo, so she had a lot of room to take artistic liberties. That may be true for some details, but what we do know about Lisa del Giocondo was completely ignored in this novel. The author is a wonderful writer, but not so great at historical fiction. A truly gifted historical fiction writer could take historical fact and make it an interesting story without completely changing who a person was and what their life was like.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was historically accurate in regards to events occuring. It was interesting but the similar names were confusing.there are a lot of characters to keep up with. The climax was intense but rushed and short lived.the ending was satisfactory...nothing spectaclar.
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