SFORZA, Gian Galeazzo Maria, 1469-1494; [Isabella of Aragon, 1470-1524]
A love letter to the Mona Lisa?
A signed love letter of the young Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1469-1494) to his future bride, Isabella of Aragon (1470-1524). Sforza was later a confidant of Leonardo da Vinci; Isabella is considered by art historian Maike Vogt-Luerssen to have been the model for Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.
Bifolium, 300 x 210 mm, on paper bearing the watermark of the arms of Sforza (a basilisk, or serpent, devouring a child), the manuscript in a fine Italian hand occupying a half side, signed at the foot Jo. Ga. Ma. Dux M[i]l[an]i and dated at the head 7 May 1481; addressed to Dne. Isabella; light foxing, residual tape at corners and edges of the horizontal fold; complete.
The letter is written by the twelve-year old Duke of Milan to his cousin Isabella of Aragon, to whom he was already betrothed and whom he would marry in 1489. In it he writes of his great joy at receiving the gift she has sent him – a gift worthy of their love (“degno del amore nostro”). He declares that he will keep it amongst his “military ornaments” and, if he had to arm himself and enter battle, he would carry it with him out of love for her (“per amore de vostra S.ra”). Presumably, the gift was a decorated sash or banner, or similar accoutrement.
The engagement of Gian Galeazzo and Isabella had been planned as early as 1471, and was formalised in 1480. The young couple would not actually meet until their marriage in 1489, but throughout the period of their betrothal the pair exchanged charming and naive letters expressing their love for one another, which were often accompanied by affectionate gifts.
The true identity of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has always been the subject of conjecture, but has never been conclusively proven. The beautiful Isabella, who is described in contemporary sources as having the appearance of an angel, is regarded by German-Australian academic Maike Vogt-Luerssen (and others) to be the enigmatic subject of Leonardo’s portrait. The theory is compellingly presented in her book Wer ist Mona Lisa : auf der Suche nach ihrer Identität (Norderstedt, 2003). Another possibility is that Isabella’s beauty inspired Leonardo to create a portrait of an ideal female with traits comparable to her own.
From 1482 to 1499 Leonardo da Vinci was a court painter in Milan, and he made numerous portraits of the Sforza family. He was intimately familiar with Gian Galeazzo and Isabella, whose wedding celebrations he planned and staged in spectacular fashion.