The History of the Mona Lisa

a picture of the Mona Lisa
Image Credit: Pixabay.com

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, one of the most recognised and copied.

It currently hangs in the Louvre, where it is believed that 80% of the 10.2 million visitors go specifically to view the masterpiece. Brewminate suggest it was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519, and it is Leonardo Da Vinci’s seminal work that set a standard for artists that have come since.

The perspective might not seem unique today, but it set a precedent that many portrait artists began to adopt. The sitter’s position mostly turns toward the viewer, which broke convention in Italian art at the time. Now, it is the most commonly used portrait profile, which only adds to the paintings allure and influence.

The identity of the subject is widely debated, with one theory being that it is a self-portrait, but with Da Vinci disguising himself as a woman. Another popular train of thought is that it is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Sigmund Freud believed that the subject was in fact the artist’s mother, Caterina.

After emerging from his studio in 1519, the painting passed to King Francis I of France, in whose court Da Vinci spent the latter years of his life. For centuries, it remained in French palaces, on display only for kings and queens, but was claimed by the people during the French Revolution between 1787 and 1799. After a short stint on Napoleon’s bedroom wall, it found its way into the Louvre at the turn of the 19th century, where it has remained ever since.

Or rather, where it has almost remained ever since. In 1911, the painting was stolen from the gallery causing a media sensation. People even visited the gallery to see the space where the great masterpiece had once hung – such was the furore. The museum’s director of paintings resigned and some famous names were linked with the theft. The poet French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested, as was Pablo Picasso. Gala Bingo explain how the famous surrealist was strongly suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa, but both were false leads which failed to result in the painting being returned.

Indeed, it was two years later that a Florence art dealer reported a man had tried to sell him the painting, leading to its discovery in a trunk belonging to Vincenzo Peruggia. He was arrested and imprisoned and the Mona Lisa went on a brief tour of Italy before returning home to France, where she has remained ever since.

During World War II, she went on another tour, this time of the French countryside. Having been singled out as the most-endangered piece of art in the Louvre, the painting was spirited away and hidden in various locations to prevent destruction or capture. In 1945 she adorned the walls of the Louvre once more, but has toured New York, Washington, Tokyo and Moscow in more recent times.

The painting has been analysed using modern techniques in recent years, revealing a sketch underneath which was likely used by Da Vinci to create the painting. Others believe there are two works of art under the Mona Lisa, both of which were unfinished.

The allure and attraction of the painting continues to thrill and excite today, and it is well worth a visit if you do intend to add the Louvre to your next Paris itinerary.

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