Athe more distracted will probably have escaped, but the children will not. But that there Gioconda!. More than a small visitor said this when entering the Stibbert Museum before the lockdown of the art sites, with an expression of wonder that speaks volumes about the ability to observe children. One of the more than sixty younger sisters scattered around the world of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in fact in the Sala della Malachite, which is accessed immediately after walking up the stairs of the main entrance. To show it to us, in the silence of the refined room with crimson red walls, the deputy director Simona Di Marco who on the occasion of the celebrations of the five hundred years since Leonardo’s death studied this canvas considered a nineteenth-century copy of no value, for a century relegated in storage and ignored. Very few know it, but the only one Gioconda visible in Florence – explains Di Marco, historian, since 1989 at work in the museum directed by Enrico Colle – Frederick Stibbert bought it at auction from the Mozzi Del Garbo collection in 1879 and placed it right here where we see it now and where it was relocated when a fifteen years ago we started to refurbish the picture gallery. Until 1837 it is even considered the work of Leonardo, then an excellent copy on canvas.
The first investigations
According to what the first investigations revealed, it is an ancient younger sister, not coeval, painted between the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century: Pigments that could not be after the seventeenth century were used, in particular the blue enamel – continues Di Marco – The painting today in precarious conditions. The original canvas appears to have been first trimmed and then widened on a larger canvas where the nineteenth-century repainting is evident. The hope that soon we can start with the restoration that will allow the consolidation of the fragile parts and the restitution of the luster of the work. The project is ready, has been approved by the Superintendency and we are looking for resources. Unfortunately the period is not the best, but let’s not despair.
In the palace of treasures
The history of the Gioconda del Stibbert intriguing and leads us into the severe and turreted palace that stands guarding the ancient Ponte della Grazie then owned by one of the most prominent families in Florence, the Mozzi Del Garbo, then purchased in 1913 by Stefano Bardini. Powerful and very rich merchants, papal treasurers for generations, had an art collection indicated by the city guides among the most beautiful and refined. At the beginning of the nineteenth century those who stopped in Florence were also referred to them because this was there Gioconda, says the deputy director. There were also those who thought it came from the house of Francesco del Giocondo, the husband of Mona Lisa to whom, according to what Vasari writes in the second edition of the Quick (1568) Leonardo painted the portrait, but it is a fictional interpretation that cannot be confirmed by the documentation. Of course, as time goes by, the family becomes more and more in difficulty, the economic turmoil comes with Count Adolfo, son of the noblewoman Teresa Mozzi Del Garbo, the beautiful Italian woman who made even Napoleon’s head spin. time to sell everything.
The auction of 1789
And this is where Frederick Stibbert comes into play. In 1879 the auction of paintings and furniture was held in the building in Piazza dei Mozzi 3 by the Mediatore’s Company. According to the chronicles of the time, the most important of the year: for three days, from 22 to 24 April, it attracts many art dealers and people from abroad, so much so that the competition is quite lively. The Gioconda, with gilded and carved frame, lot number 150 and Stibbert buys it through the antique dealer Giuseppe Valmori, together with other pieces for a total of 1065 lire. She is presented to him as a contemporary copy of Boltraffio, Leonardo’s pupil, but he is the first to put a question mark on it. The information comes from his purchase notebook, a kind of housekeeping scam, in which he records everything. From the same auction, together with the Mona Lisa, he brings home, for 640 lire, TheUsurer of the workshop of Quentin Massys, cited in the newspapers of the time, and for a further 378 lire the Penitent Magdalene described as by Bronzino and now attributed to Allori, a very large canvas. All works that we find in the Malachite Room. These are the years in which the preparation of the museum is in the pipeline – the completion of the famous Sala della Cavalcata of 1880 – he wants to emphasize the treasures that become part of a collection that will eventually contain over 36 thousand objects and in this room, which has the layout of the great nineteenth-century art galleries, arranges the works considered most important.
Opening to the public
In 1908, two years after the death of the English collector and gentleman who had transformed his mother Giulia’s country villa into a kingdom of wonders that embraced the cultures of distant countries from Florence, the museum, inherited from the city, opened to the public. The twentieth-century exhibition is more focused on the theme of weapons, which has always been the strong point, and a large part of the picture gallery ends up in deposits and oblivion, including ours Gioconda, but today the study of the work and of this unrecognized collection is revealing surprises – concludes Di Marco – Unfortunately there was a sort of damnatio memoriae that condemned the picture gallery to be just a picture gallery of copies, instead many paintings are of great interest and the more we work on it, the more we realize it. In the past, compared to today, the replica or copy of a painting had a different value, contributed to the knowledge of the models and was chosen in the logic of a completion, of an enrichment of a collection. And in the Stibbert house-museum it had its meaning. Every work of art, copy or not copy, contains a world. That of Gioconda of the Stibbert was unveiled and with the restoration it could reveal other surprises. The mystery of its author remains, it will hardly be known, but when it is possible to return to the Montughi hill where Frederick Stibbert realized his dream, to those children who will say Gioconda! he will be able to tell his story.
April 1, 2021 | 08:49