Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names by Ruth Bernard Yeazell - review by David Ekserdjian

David Ekserdjian

By Any Other Name

Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names

By

Princeton University Press 331pp £24.95 order from our bookshop
 

On 21 April 1525, a notarial act was drawn up to divide the property of Gian Giacomo Caprotti di Oreno, best known to posterity as Salaì. Salaì, who was a particular favourite among the pupils and assistants of Leonardo da Vinci, had met a violent end in his native Milan the previous year. Among the paintings listed in the inventory of his possessions was a ‘Quadro dicto la Joconda dicto la honda’ (‘Painting called the Joconda called the honda’). Self-evidently, this was the picture we call the Mona Lisa, but which Italians and others refer to as the Gioconda, or by variants of that name. 

One of Ruth Bernard Yeazell’s many aims in this absorbing and impressively wide-ranging book is to get us to think about what effect different titles may have (though Mona Lisa versus Gioconda is a teasing example she does not explore). She also sets out to show that it was only

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