I admit it, I think that this is the most overrated painting in the history of art and this book is exemplary of How Not to Do It. There is some decent archive delving herein, credit where it is due, but this book purports to tell us 'the secret' of La Gioconda. I expected something about her personality, some thing about her character. There's a promise here, of 'discovery'...I took it that something of her person might waft across the ages since, of course, the Most Famous Painting must have at its centre one interesting chick, right? Well in fact, Hales knows almost nothing but a few bare facts, the rest is...silence? Well no, you can hear the sound of a barrel being scraped when, finally, we enter the Holy of Holies, IT, and 'discover', what? Well, that the Mona Lisa is 'us', that 'we' are fascinated (?) by it giving us back our mysterious selves; it is (Oh no!) a Rorschach blot of a painting, 'reading' us even as we read it. It is as if a terrible, childish PoMo-critic-meets-Barbara Cartland. It goes without question that La Gioconda is seen as the greatest painting ever, [childish epithets anyway. For what it is worth I think Velazquez's 'Innocent X', Holbein's portraits of Henry 8th's court and Rembrandt's self portraits far superior]. But are 'we' now so self-obsessed, so 'celebrity' minded that deep thrills such as this portrait apparently gives must be so 'democratically' accounted? Is art history now a sort of aesthetic populism? I think not. But if you like this sort of guff, if you like this slightly drab painting, well fill yer boots. Purple-prosed cobblers. I was cross by the end, so little did it say and that very badly; the finale is embarrassingly vacuous, sentimental trash. Bah, humbug.
P.S. As of December 2015 British critic Andrew Graham Dixon has persuasively argied that there were in fact two portraits, the earlier detectable in spectral analysis, showing an earlier image, presumably of Lisa the Florentine, with this present portrait done rather later when Leonardo was in France. At any rate it makes Hales's account look even less adequate.