The Princess & The Painter – Part Two – In the second part of his interview with Italian socialites Natalia and Irina Strozzi, George R Vaughan found out a little more about the fascinating history these two engaging women share.
Travel is in the blood of Natalia and Irina Strozzi. Together they have visited almost every continent on the globe and just recently were the guests of honour at an event in the Middle East as part of a celebration of women. It was a region they had never been to before and they were surprised by the reaction their arrival prompted. “We have visited everywhere from Japan to India and Russia to China but the Gulf was the last location we had yet to frequent ourselves with.
“Visiting Bahrain was a real pleasure and both Irina and I were amazed at the reception we received. The people were hospitable and keen to engage us with our ancestry. The region is filled with such beautiful history and culture. In many ways, the Italian way of life – close family, love of good food and a tradition of wonderful hospitality – is very similar to the Arab way so we share a lot of common ground in this respect.
“Naturally our association with the Mona Lisa was the biggest talking point”.
This prompted me to ask Natalia if she felt any connection to the young Lisa Gherardini. Although there was no evidence to suggest her ancestor was an actress, Natalia’s love of the arts has been something that has always formed an intrinsic part of who she is.
“I hadn’t really thought about it but there is a fascinating symmetry to the story. My passion for music and acting has been with me since I was a small child and my sister is also a talented pianist. Perhaps in some strange way, the link that Leonardo had with his muse Lisa has found its way to us through the generations.
“I know it sounds like a romantic notion more suited to a novel than an interview but I do believe that certain traits can be passed down through generations and I would like to think a little bit of Leonardo rubbed off on Lisa and made its way down the family tree to me!”
Beyond her association with the painting, only rare scatterings of information remain concerning Lisa Gherardini. Her face may be eternally recognisable but her fate beyond that of sitting with the legendary Leonardo is still clouded in mystery.
Giuseppe Pallanti discovered that Lisa and her husband went on to have five children together and that she outlived Francesco, finally passing away on July 15th 1542 at the age of 63. Pallanti believed that she was buried at a convent in Florence called Sant ’Orsola.
As for the name of the painting; Mona was a common Italian contraction of the word “Madonna” meaning “my lady”, the equivalent of the English “madam” so the title of Leonardo’s most famous work means “Lady” or “Madam Lisa”.
The alternative title, La Gioconda, is the feminine of Giocondo, which in Italian means “light-hearted” so “Gioconda” means “light-hearted woman”.
Whilst privately living with the knowledge of having such a famous ancestor amongst their ranks for some time now, it is clear that the recent media interest will change how the Strozzi family deal with this reality in the future.
Certainly, Natalia is aware of the difference it could make for her and her younger sister.
“Suddenly people start looking at you differently, making certain associations or assumptions about your personality that they would not have before. All I know is that I am the same person, whoever my ancestors might be. Sure, it makes my history that much richer, counting such a recognisable figure amongst my clutch of ancestors but it won’t change how I am inside.
“If anything, there is an interesting simile to be had from the painting in that this constant, static image has remained appealing to many cultures across numerous centuries; never changing and yet always engaging.
“For me that says a lot about being yourself because remaining true to who you are can get you further than trying to change just to fit into a circumstance. I’m not going to do anything any differently just because of who I am descended from. I am already the person I was meant to be and that is something that was passed down to me by my parents and their parents before them. Lisa Gioconda left her mark on me and my family long before the press ever found out about our association. ”
It was refreshing to hear Natalia speak in such a considered and balanced fashion about a story that has really captured the imagination of the global press. For me, it demonstrated that whilst she was clearly proud to be associated with such a prestigious work of art, she was still intelligent enough to realise that you were much more likely to get where you were trying to go if you keep your feet on the ground.
Of course, before wrapping up our conversation, I had to ask about the family resemblance and whether she or her sister felt they shared any of the features with someone many believe to be the most beautiful woman ever painted.
Humble as ever, Natalia gave a little shake of her head and smiled.
“I couldn’t possibly comment. You have seen the picture and you can see me here now so I will let you decide the answer to that one”.