Behind The Painting 

A woman has been the subject of the most famous love stories, most beautiful love songs, and most recognizable art pieces. The majority of us do not know who these muses are, even though they inspired work that is woven into the fabric of our cultural history. Here are a couple of the most iconic women in art.

Lisa Gherardini, better known as the Mona Lisa (b1479 – d1542)

Lisa was the daughter of an old aristocratic family. She lived a comfortable life with her father, who struggled financially with the situation Florence was in at that time. At the age of 15, Lisa married a modest yet successful cloth merchant - Francesco- who accepted a less than favourable dowry which leads historians to think that they married for love rather than money as Lisa’s family funds were limited. A few years after their marriage, they had their first son and Francesco got Da Vinci to paint his wife in celebration of their baby boy.

Together they had 5 children and prospered as her husband’s career took him to politics where he got elected as what was the equivalent of a Lord. As a result of his ties to the Medici family, Francesco was later imprisoned.However, it wasn't long before he was freed because as Florence had feared, the Medici family returned from exile and freed him quickly. They spent many happy years together. Before Francesco passed away he gave Lisa back her dowry along with many jewels, estates and clothes so that Lisa could take care of his children. At the time, females inheriting money and land was almost unheard of so to make sure there was no contest to his will he wrote “Given the affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife; in consideration of the fact that Lisa has always acted with a noble spirit and as a faithful wife; wishing that she shall have all she needs…"

Anna Matilda McNeill, aka Whistler’s Mother/ Arrangement in Grey and Black (b1805 -d1881)

Anna’s childhood was a happy one. She was born in 1804 in Wilmington, North Carolina and was one of five children. She was not traditionally educated but focused her time on history, French and music. From a young age she had a fondness for her future husband, George Washington Whistler, her brother's school friend. Even though they were not married for a few years, Anna remained close to their family and was often referred to as "Auntie Anna" by their children.She was also by George's side when Mary - his wife - passed away, thus becoming Anna Matilda Whistler.

Whistler's three children from his previous marriage, along with her own two, occupied her days. Having wished for a life of ease for her children, she was dismayed to discover that James wanted a career as an artist. Seeing James' talent soon made this no longer a problem and she became his biggest cheerleader. She even moved to London to be with him, leaving behind all that she knew. James honoured her with the iconic portrait which he held a showing for and it received mixed reviews but Anna was so proud of her son regardless. Anna passed away a decade later and James vowed to never part with the painting but due to unfortunate financial circumstances he sold the painting.

These ladies are just as much a part of history as the artist’s themselves, we should do our best to remember them too! Who’s your favourite subject from a painting ? You should have a go and find out about them, it’s fascinating learning about the people behind the painting.

Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci

Whistler's Mother, painted James Abbott McNeill Whistler