History of “Mona Lisa”

For over 500 years, this painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci has survived and is now in the care of The Louvre Museum in Paris. Leonardo da Vinci has been known for his contributions in many different fields such as art, science and engineering. He was considered by many scholars a “Universal Genius”.

The painting is said to be a portrait of Lisa Ghererdini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Hence, the name Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian), in which the word “Mona” is the equivalent of “Madam” or “My lady” in English. It is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506 but may have been finished in 1517. Although it is unclear why she was painted. Some speculate that it was done either because she and her husband bought their own house in 1503 or when their second son, Andrea was born in December 1502 after the death of a daughter in 1499.

There are many unique aspects of the painting instilled by Leonardo.

  • It is a half-length portrait, from the head to the waist.
  • It was oil painted on wood, not on canvas.
  • Her arms are folded on an armchair.
  • It was one of the first portraits that depict a person in front of an imaginary landscape.
  • Leonardo was among the first artists to use aerial perspective which is the effect of the environment on the appearance of an object as it is viewed from a distance.
  • The famous smile which shows happiness as the aim of the painting.
  • The background shows a sort of window and beyond that, a natural landscape with a winding road, a bridge and then an inhabited space of rocks and water which he had drawn to the lever of the sitter’s eyes.

Leonardo was said to have started the painting in Florence, Italy either in 1503 or 1504. However, it took him more than a decade to finish the work. He had been invited by King François I in France. The French King kept the painting in his palace for a century after which Louis XIV took it to the grand Palace of  Versailles. In the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte kept the painting in his boudoir.

The painting wasn’t famous until it was stolen in 1911 from the Louvre Museum, Paris. There were a lot of suspicions but it was later revealed to have been stolen by an Italian employee, Vincenzo Peruggia who believed that the painting should be kept in an Italian museum. Other attempts had been made to destroy or spoil the painting and thus, it had to be protected by bullet proof glass. Since its worldwide recognition, it has been reproduced in about 300 paintings and 2,000 advertisements. It had been exhibited in other places such as the United States on the request of the first lady Jackie Kennedy.  It had also been displayed in Tokyo and Moscow.

Since its worldwide fame, the painting has been depicted by many artists in different humorous ways. An example is Le rire (The Laugh) by Eugène Bataille in 1883. In this, the Mona Lisa is painted in black and white smoking a pipe. It has been recorded by the Guinness World Record for the highest insurance valuation in history at $620 million in 2016.   

Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.

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