The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous painting in the world. In fact, it is the most popular work of art in history. Millions of people have visited the Louvre to view it. Though it has been created in the 16th century, it has continued to be controversial at present. This research paper aims to discuss the history of the painting and the recent developments around it.
It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 (“History”). The painting was finished four years after (“History”). It was said that the painting was purchased by King Francois of France in 1516 for 4,000 coins of gold (“History”; Blake). Francois I invited Leonardo to France “to work at Clos Lucé,” and the latter died after three years (Wallis 226; Blake). The painting was eventually included in the monarch’s art collection and was placed in the royal bathroom (Wallis 226).
There had been speculation that the painting was reduced after Leonardo’s death, and that it originally had two columns on the sides (“History”). However, art experts refute this claim. During the French Revolution, it was said that Napoleon had placed the painting in his bedroom in Tuileries Palace (Blake). Soon after, it was returned to the Lourve. The Mona Lisa was temporarily hidden in a location in France in the duration of the Franco-Prussian War and World War II (Blake). In 1963, the painting was brought to Washington and was insured for $100 million dollars (Wallis 226). At present, the painting can still be found in the museum and is currently a property of the French government. The painting also has a duplicate, which can be found in Dulwich Picture Gallery (“History”).
In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre (Rosenberg 1). The exact date of the theft was August 21st, but it was only the day after when the authorities noticed that the painting was missing (Rosenberg 1). It was a painter who first discovered that the Mona Lisa was missing. The painting was hung on Salon Carré of the Lourve and could be found between two other paintings: “The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine” by Correggio and “The Allegory of Alfonso d’Avalos” by Titian (Rosenberg 1). On August 22nd, Louis Béroud only found iron pegs on the wall; the painting was missing (Rosenberg 1).
On September 7th that same year, French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested (Rosenberg 2). He was considered a suspect simply because he was a friend of a known artifact thief named Géry Piéret (Rosenberg 2). He was released five days later. Even world-famous painter Pablo Picasso was considered a suspect (Blake). Two years had passed before there was any development regarding the theft (Rosenberg 2).
In 1913, an antique dealer named Alfredo Geri placed an ad in the newspaper, stating that he was interested in purchasing art pieces (Rosenberg 3). The thief responded to the ad and introduced himself as Leonardo Vincenzo, and he told Geri he had the Mona Lisa (Rosenberg 3). Leonardo Vincenzo is actually Vincenzo Peruggia, a former Lourve employee (Rosenberg 3). He worked in the museum in 1908, but he was still recognized by the museum’s security at the time of the theft. He took the painting from the salon, proceeded to the staircase and detached the painting from its frame. He hid the Mona Lisa under his smock and left the museum unnoticed (Rosenberg 3).
The Mona Lisa is an oil painting that measures at only 31 x 21 inches (Blake). The painting is placed on a “poplar wooden panel” (Blake). Leonardo used the sfumato method in painting the Mona Lisa (Blake). In Italian, the term “sfumato” is “blended”; the word was derived from “fumo,” which means “smoke” (Blake).
The Mona Lisa is a painting of a seated woman clothed in Florentine dress, against the backdrop of mountains (Blake). It is the woman’s smile and gazes that has created much buzz around the painting. The woman was said to be smiling because “the corners of her mouth were lifted” (Sebe qtd. in Campbell 51). As for her gaze, when the viewer looks unto her eyes, it seems like the woman in the painting is following the viewer’s gaze (“History”). However, if there was one thing that brought much controversy to the painting, it would be the woman’s identity.
The painting is also referred to as “La Gioconda” (Blake). “Gioconda” in Italian means “light-hearted woman” (Blake). The identity of the woman in the painting had been debated upon for centuries, and several speculations have arisen. According to Maike Vogt-Lüerssen, Isabella of Aragon is the woman in the painting (Blake). This is because her green dress has a pattern that implies membership in the “house of Visconti-Sforza” (Blake). Vogt-Lüerssen also saw a likeness between the pictures of Isabella and the woman in the painting.
On the other hand, Dr. Lilian Schwartz hints that the woman in the painting may not actually be a woman; rather, it may be Leonardo himself (Blake). This conclusion was derived from a digital analysis of the painting and Leonardo’s portrait, which was found to have been painted in a similar style.
It was only until recently that the identity of the woman in the painting was revealed. In January 2008, Heidelberg University academics have proven that the woman in the painting was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo (Lorenzi 1). The proof was found on the margins of a book and derived from notes by Agostino Vespucci in October 1503 (Lorenzi 1).
Vespucci was a friend of Leonardo; in his notes, he stated that Leonardo was working on several paintings, which included that of Lisa del Giocondo (Lorenzi 1). Lisa was the wife of a silk merchant from Florence named Francesco del Giocondo (Lorenzi 1). That is the reason why Mona Lisa is the name of the painting; it means Madam Lisa since “mona” means “madam” or “my lady” in Italian (“History”).
The mystery of the painting may have been revealed, but this surely does not diminish the public’s interest in the Mona Lisa. It has been one of the most significant artworks in history and will continue to do so in centuries to come.
Blake, Diana. “The Mona Lisa.” Art History Site. 2008. BellaOnline. 1 April 2008 ;http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art18406.asp;.
Campbell, Michael. “What’s Behind The Smile?” Arts & Antiques October 2006: 51.
“History & Pictures Of The Mona Lisa By Leonardo Da Vinci.” Art History Guide. 1 April 2008 <http://www.arthistoryguide.com/Mona_Lisa.aspx>.
Lorenzi, Rossella. “Mona Lisa’s Identity Confirmed by Document.” Discovery News. 2008. Discovery Communications. 1 April 2008 ;http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/01/16/mona-lisa-identity.html;.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “The Mona Lisa Was Stolen!” About.com. 2008. The New York Times Company. 1 April 2008 ;http://history1900s.about.com/od/famouscrimesscandals/a/monalisa.htm;.
Wallis, Denis. Why in the World? Australia: Reader’s Digest Pty Limited, 1994.