Mona Lisa and the Little Devil


Mona Lisa captures the world’s attention

The trivial vanishes, the sign remains. The mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa captures the world’s attention. The Little Devil’s fight for his forlorn existence on the pages of history pale by 500 years.

remains doubtful. Mona Lisa is so familiar to the mental vocabulary of everyone but Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno or Salaì or even Little Devil is still Latin to most of us unable to transport our thoughts to the real character behind.
Mona Lisa-the masterpiece, painting in oil of Leonardo da Vinci, had so many experiences all these almost five centuries. It stayed in royal palaces owned by Francis I from 1518 to Louis XIV, though Louis XV and Louis XVI were not much enamored by her mysterious smile.

The Little Corporal Napoleon Bonaparte revered the art and her sphinx smile, referred to her as ‘Madam Lisa’, and had her right in his bedroom in his Tuileries Palace suite. Then she was in the Louvre museum. During Franco-Prussian War in Best Arsenal and again came back to live permanently in Louvre. Yes, a great sensation enveloped the world, when she was kidnapped in 2011.

the nude Mona Lisa

Great names such as French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the famous painter Pablo Picasso came under pale suspicion. Though she had a couple of years’ hardship elsewhere when she had to sleep in the trunk of Vincenzo Peruggia. The real kidnapper and a Louvre employee. She was recovered and got such great limelight of 20th-century media that her fame is engraved in stone۔

It will not be out of context to refer to her identical twin. The Prado Mona Lisa and why not the triplet- Monna Vanna-the nude Mona Lisa. Prado Mona Lisa is almost a true copy and the nude one is a little different but can be taken as a fraternal twin. Both these paintings have also stirred up the imagination of numerous art lovers and art researchers.

We ride the time machine for a backward journey

Now, with all these carry-ons of what we discussed above. We ride the time machine for a backward journey of 500 years right into the studio of Leonardo Da Vinci. The life-long bachelor. Without the models, his masterpieces would have been but prisoners of his mind. Mona Lisa, Saint John the Baptist, Bacchus, Salvator Mundi, The Last Supper. Madonna of the Carnation and his other masterpieces would not have seen the light of the day without inspiring models.

And here comes Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno. A lad of ten years with an effeminate look entering into the life of Leonardo Da Vinci direct from his vineyard. His father was a tenant of the great artist’s vineyard. Giorgio Vasari, a contemporary Italian painter but better known for his life sketches ‘Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects’ writes about Salai and Leonardo:

‘In Milan, he took for his assistant the Milanese Salai. Who was most comely in grace and beauty, having fine locks, curling in ringlets? In which Leonardo greatly delighted; and he taught him many things of art; and certain works in Milan, which are said to be by Salai, were retouched by Leonardo.’
Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno. The beautiful lad was renamed Salai meaning ‘little devil’ by Leonardo because of his naughty and wayward habits. Leonardo had plenty of derogatory adjectives for him- thief, glutton, stubborn and liar, and whatnot. But these are elementary.

who was the model of the Mona Lisa?

We come back to Mona Lisa. The great question still not very satisfactorily answered is who was the model of the Mona Lisa? Lisa del Geocondo better-half of the affluent Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Geocondo or Salai? It is sure that Leonardo made a painting of the lady which remained unfinished but none, even the Louvre representative is certain that the Mona Lisa resting in absolute command in Louvre is a painting of that lady. Salai had a feminine charm and a comparison of the nose, mouth, eyes, and the shape of the face of Mona Lisa with those of his reach to a striking similarity. This is the minute observation of so many artists.

Salai was a model of so many of Leonardo’s masterpieces namely- Saint the Baptist, Bacchus, Salvator Mundi, etc. Like so many unanswered questions or the allegations given benefit of doubt, one is that of Leonardo’s sexuality also that he was gay. And Salai was his student, model, and lover.

The great work of art was not just a professional relationship between a painter and a model but it was an obsession of love transmuted into art. Mona Lisa was the most favorite creation of Leonardo which he kept always with him. Some observations say that all the three Mona Lisas have a strong resemblance with the young Salai and even Salai’s face was mixed with that of Leonardo himself. This also accentuates the presumption that Mona Lisa did not come out of a commission by a wealthy merchant but a love platonic and rather unnatural.

Salai was a domestic help to Leonardo

To the world, Salai was a domestic help to Leonardo. A mediocre student of art as well, but the unassuming yet tenacious temperament of Salai could not earn for him the distinct mark of a painter. It is said that the nude Mona Lisa is his work and himself as a model but officially it cannot be claimed. It is something else that Salai left for the vineyard a year before Leonardo’s death, got married five years later at the age of 43, and within a year died because of an injury received in a duel. He inherited much from Leonardo even the Mona Lisa which he sold to Francis I, king of France.

But the reality could not get the due as the impression. Mona Lisa reigns over the hearts conquering kings and the subjects alike and Salai- the little devil has nothing at his credit. The mystery behind the sphinx smile still remains a mystery.(written by sanjay kumar kundan )

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