Wouldn’t have thought so really

Did the Mona Lisa have syphilis?
Jonathan Jones

Others will know better than I but I’d doubt it.

Is this why Del Giocondo needed snail water? If so, it is possible she wanted it for someone other than herself. In any case, her recorded purchase was more than a decade after she posed for Leonardo. But suppose she already had a sexually transmitted disease in 1503. What would that say about Leonardo’s most famous painting?

In those first couple of decades of the arrival (perhaps irruption) of syphilis in Europe it was horribly, hugely, virulent. Noses fell off within months of infection. Death was swift.

It’s only later that it became a chronic disease that might take decades to kill.

I could believe someone in 1703 living a decade with syphilis, could believe, possibly, 1603, but 1503 seems most, most, unlikely.

11 comments on “Wouldn’t have thought so really

  1. Does Jonathan Jones have the worst wig in the business? I think that is a more interesting question.

    A grown woman buys something disgusting. Some fat git thinks it may have something to do with a sexually transmitted disease. He has no evidence for this and so distracts us with talk of Freud and the alleged homosexuality of “Leonardo” (nice to see they are on first name basis).

    A waste of the two minutes it would take a normal person to sneer at that.

  2. There are always outliers.

    And those outliers (granny smoked 40 a day and lived to 90), are what makes life truly interesting.

  3. Bloke in Germany – “There are always outliers.”

    This is a comment about the wig, right?

  4. I wouldn’t take any of the article seriously. I used to know an artist, now dead. Small and very ordinary-looking chap could easily disappear in a crowd. Not well-known, retained his genuine working-class mannerisms.

    He used to go to his own shows, unnanounced, and listen to the punters musing about what must have inspired him and what messages the art held for modern society, etc. And thought to himself “I just painted the fucker”.

  5. Bloke in Germany – “And thought to himself “I just painted the fucker”.”

    Didn’t Isaac Asimov go to a conference on his own work, without identifying himself, and when he dissented from what the panel was saying about his work, he identified himself and was promptly told he did not understand his own motivations?

  6. SMFS–Maybe–but the story sounds akin to the (I believe) myth about Elvis losing an Elvis lookalike contest.

  7. What would that say about Leonardo’s most famous painting?

    It would say that it was about a woman who also had syphilis?

  8. I am not sure that you can support your hypothesis that syphilis killed more swiftly in the c15th than in the c18th. The first phase does result in suppurating sores but it does depend on the part of the nervous system that is being attacked. Given that the only treatment was mercury and late mediaeval science didn’t know much about dosages, it was probably being given too much poison that killed people rather than syphilis itself.

  9. I don’t know specifically about syphilis, but it’s a common feature of virulent infectious diseases that they relatively quickly evolve to a less virulent form. A disease that kills its host too quickly (or otherwise reduces its likelihood of transmission) loses the evolutionary race to a more chronic form of the same condition.

  10. What would that say about Leonardo’s most famous painting?

    It wouldn’t say anything? I mean, she was who she was whether she had a venereal disease or not.

  11. Maybe it would tell us her husband was a florentine merchant who, being a merchant, was friendly with sailors.

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