Facts about Mona Lisa
Probably the most recognizable painting in the world
This painting has excited great interest for centuries, and there is probably no one who does not know it. It shows the portrait of an average Florentine woman, a wife, a mother, leading an ordinary, quiet middle-class life. Leonardo da Vinci's masterful painting technique made the woman's mysterious smile the subject of inquiries from art experts and even university analyses. The painting, on display in the Luvre Collection, is admired by some 10 million visitors a year.
1Mona Lisa is an oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci.
The masterpiece measures 77 x 53 cm and was painted on a poplar board.
2The painting was created between 1503 and 1507.
It is now in the Louvre in Paris and is a bone of contention between the French and Italians, as both nations consider it their national treasure.
3The French feel the ownership of the painting because after the death of the master Leonardo, his sisters sold the "Mona Lisa" to the French King Francis I.
King bought the portrait for the considerable sum of four thousand gold crowns - equivalent to $9.7 million today! And so it came to France.
4At first, it hung in the palace of Fontainebleau, in the royal bathing salon.
After fifty years, the painting was moved to the Cabinet des Tableaux. During the reign of Louis XIV, it was taken to Versailles and later to the Louvre, shortly after the latter was opened.
5It was a decoration of the French Emperor interiors for a while.
From the Louvre, Mona Lisa was taken by Napoleon Bonaparte to his bedroom at Tuileries Palace. When the Emperor was exiled to St. Helena Island in 1815, the "Mona Lisa" returned to the Louvre.
6The work was put on permanent display at the Louvre in 1797.
It is one of the most famous and valuable paintings of the Renaissance and the most protected work of art in the world. Many myths and theories surround the painting, such as the Louvre exhibiting not the original but one of many copies of the portrait.
7Except for France, Mona Lisa has been exhibited in only three countries in the world so far.
After World War II, the painting was presented in the United States in 1963 and Japan and the Soviet Union in 1974. The authorities of Florence also tried to lend the artwork on the occasion of a major exhibition in 2013, but the management of the Louvre firmly refused.
8In the United States, "Mona Lisa" was exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
More than 2,000 dignitaries attended the exhibition, including President John F. Kennedy. The exhibit opened to the public the next day and was seen by an estimated 500,000 people over the next three weeks. The painting then went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where another million people saw it. The painting was then insured for $100 million.
9It is assumed that the painting was commissioned by a Florentine merchant, Francesco Gioconda, who never became its owner.
The biographers of da Vinci argue on this subject. There are suppositions that it was the master himself who forced the merchant to agree to paint the portrait of his wife.
10There are also several hypotheses about who the woman portrayed really was.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, many researchers identified da Vinci's model with other, more famous historical figures (Isabella of Aragon, Beatrice d'Este, Constanza d'Avalos).
11There is also a somewhat crazy theory that the painting depicts Leonardo da Vinci himself.
Some claimed that Salai (Giovanni Francesco Caprotti), the master's pupil and confidant, or perhaps lover, posed for the portrait. However, the prevailing view was that the master portrayed Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant.
12In 2005, an expert from the Heidelberg University Library discovered a note stating that Leonardo was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.
The note was made in 1503, in the margin of a book written by Cicero. Book belonged to Agostino Vespucci, a Florentine chancellery official, clerk, and assistant to Niccolò Machiavelli.
13Lisa was born on 15 June 1479. She was the daughter of Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini and his third Lucrezia del Caccia.
Before Lucrezia, Antonmaria had been married twice, but both his previous wives died in childbirth. So Lisa was the first child of the family, born in one of the houses in Via Sguazza in Florence.
14A few years ago, a plaque was placed on the wall of this building, commemorating the birthplace of Mona Lisa.
15Lisa had younger sisters and studied with them at the convent of San Niccolo di Cafaggio.
When she was fifteen, she married to Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo. The groom was a 29 years old widower with one son. The wedding took place in March 1495. As a dowry, the bride brought 170 florins and a small estate of San Silvestro, south of Florence.
16The young couple settled in Francesco's house in the Via della Stufa near the Basilica of San Lorenzo.
Lisa's husband was a moderately wealthy silk merchant who ran a store near Ponte Vecchio. The silks were profitable, so the family became rich. Lisa gave birth to six children, three daughters and three sons. One daughter died as an infant, and two of her older daughters became nuns at the convent of San Domenico di Cafaggio.
17In March 1503, the family moved to a new house that Francesco bought in the vicinity of his family home in Via della Stufa - probably the house that now bears number 23.
The date of the move coincides with the beginning of the pose for the famous portrait.
18Leonardo da Vinci met Francesco del Giocondo when he returned to Florence from Milan in the spring of 1500.
Without work or money, he stayed at the convent at Santissima Annunziata, where he promised to paint an altar painting in exchange for hospitality. Leonardo's father introduced his son to Lisa's husband, who supplied the convent with fabrics. Perhaps it was then that he proposed to paint a portrait of Gioconda.
19Leonardo painted the portrait of Lisa between 1503 and 1507.
In 1503 he was also commissioned to paint The Battle of Anghiari (Palazzio Vecchio), with a deadline of February 1505. The portrait of Lisa did not reach the commissioner, as the master may not have finished it while in Florence. She took it with her to France - it is said that he still made corrections to it in 1517.
20Lisa's husband died in 1538 and was buried in the family crypt.
After his death, the widow moved to an Ursuline convent where her daughter took vows. Lisa lived there for four years and died in 1542. Her corpse was buried in the monastery.
21In 2006, scientists announced that the Mona Lisa was pregnant or soon after giving birth while posing for the master.
Modern technology made it possible to discover that Mona Lisa covered her dress with a gauze veil worn back then by pregnant women or freshly after childbirth.
22The portrait shows a young woman sitting on a chair.
Her hands are resting on the armrest of the chair, which is visible at the bottom of the painting. The sitter is portrayed en trois quarts ("in three quarters") in an oblique, incomplete profile. She has dark hair covered with a transparent veil and dark eyes, above which there are no eyebrows (in the 16th century it was fashionable to depilate the eyebrows to give the impression of a higher forehead, which was desirable at the time).
23The woman is wearing a modest black dress with a décolleté that is not adorned with any jewelry.
Behind the model, the artist painted a high wall and a melancholic landscape crisscrossed by path lines and meandering streams, different on the left than on the right. The landscape was entirely invented by the artist. One can see unusual rock formations, cliffs, a dried-up riverbed, lakes at various heights, a flowing river over which a bridge rises. There are fragments of columns on both sides, probably painted at the end of the work's creation.
24Lisa is painted in a central perspective, and the background is presented from a bird's eye view.
The painting is made in oil, using the "sfumato" technique (a smooth transition from dark to light areas, creating a blurred "soft" color effect). This technique, the way of depicting the figure and the background, gave the portrait a unique impression. Even the painter's contemporaries considered the portrait revolutionary.
25What stands out most in the painting is the model's distinctive, enigmatic smile, making the portrait unique.
26Observers of the Mona Lisa before the 19th century saw nothing mysterious in her smile.
At the time, the smile was said to be "more divine than human," but this was attributed to the unusual position of the Leonardo da Vinci model. Later interpreters of the smile saw in Mona Lisa as a femme fatale figure or "one of the courtesans of the 16th century." Others saw the experience of all historical epochs and "a symbol of the modern idea" in this smile.
27Attempts have also been made to explain the mystery of the Mona Lisa's smile scientifically.
It has been found that Mona Lisa's smile becomes more pronounced when the observer looks into her eyes and disappears when he looks directly at her mouth. This difference is experienced because the human eye perceives the world in two different ways. When we look directly at an object, the light falls on the central part of the retina, allowing us to see relatively bright objects. On the other hand, when we look at something from the angle of the eye, the light falls on the outer part of the retina, which allows us to see the half-shadows better.
28Employing both parts of the retina to perceive the nuances of the work properly was a deliberate effort of Leonardo.
The artist used the shadows cast by the cheekbones to make the lips darker than the rest of the face. When we look directly into Mona Lisa's eyes, her smile appears more evident to us - we then perceive it with the retina's outer part. When we look at the mouth, we perceive the darker part of the image, making the smile appear less prominent.
29The Mona Lisa of the Louvre has never undergone restoration.
The only time it was restored was in the bathing salon of the Palace of Fontainebleau, where it was kept for fifty years before being moved to the upper floor of the Pavillon des Peintures. The royal curator at the time applied a thick layer of varnish to the surface, causing the portrait's colors to lose their intensity. Over the years, the varnish cracked, creating a network of cracks called craquelure.
30In 2011, the Prado Museum in Madrid became interested in a work that looked deceptively similar to the Mona Lisa.
The painting was cleaned of its varnish (which turns yellow when exposed to light) and it turned out to be a copy of the famous portrait, painted at the same time as the original and probably in Leonardo's workshop. The author of the copy may have been one of his students. The copy from the Prado is in cool colors, while the coloring of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre is entirely different - it is supposed to be due to the varnish.
31In 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.
The suspect was the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had already been accused of complicity in the theft of the figures from the museum, which had been taken by his friend Pieret. Another defendant was Pablo Picasso, who was suspected of having bought back stolen works of art from Pieret. However, the charges against both were dropped
32It was not until 1913 that the director of the Uffizi Museum in Florence was approached by the antiquarian Alfredo Geri, who had received a suspicious letter from Leonardo Vincenzo.
W rzeczywistości człowiek ten nazywał się Vincenzo Peruggia, był 29-letnim szklarzem pracującym w Luwrze. W korespondencji, w której twierdził, że jest w posiadaniu dzieła, Peruggia podpisywał się jako "Leonardo". Antykwariusz i dyrektor muzeum umówili się na spotkanie z autorem listu w hotelu. Złodziej zaoferował sprzedaż Mona Lisy za pół miliona lirów (dziś około 2,15 mln dolarów). Transakcja nie doszła jednak do skutku, a policja aresztowała domniemanego handlarza skradzionymi dziełami sztuki.
33After a five-day exhibition at the Uffizi Gallery, the painting was taken to Rome to the Borghese Gallery and then to Milan to the Brera Gallery, from where it returned to Paris by train.
Peruggia explained his act as a desire to return Leonardo's work to his homeland. He became a hero in the eyes of the Italian public.
34The truth about the thief's motives, however, turned out to be more prosaic.
The investigation revealed that Peruggia's motives were not entirely noble. He stole the painting for profit, but none of the people to whom he offered it for sale would buy it. He was convicted and spent seven months and nine days in prison.
35In 1913, an English art collector Hugh Blaker discovered a painting in Bath in southwest England that closely resembled the famous Mona Lisa from the Louvre.
The painting dates back to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and although it is not certain, its author may have been Leonardo da Vinci.
It was among the home collection of an aristocrat whose family had owned it for nearly a century. Blaker repurchased the painting and placed it in his home in Isleworth, a suburb of London - hence the painting's name, Mona Lisa of Isleworth.After Blaker's death, the painting entered the collection of Henry F. Pulitzer.
During the World War II, it was taken to the United States, and after the war, returned to Europe. There it ended up in a bank vault for 40 years until it was repurchased in 2008 by a Swiss group of investors who had it analyzed in detail. In 2012, the painting was presented to the public.
36The Mona Lisa is one of the most valuable paintings in the world.
It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insured value in history, at $100 million in 1962. In 2019, the equivalent amount was $660 million.
37Mona Lisa is a portrait that other artists have repeatedly used: painters, singers, satirists, filmmakers.
There have been many satirical versions of it, whose authors are: Salvador Dali, Fernand Leger, Maria Sol Escobar, Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Max, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol.
38The outbreak of a coronavirus pandemic has put a severe strain on the Louvre's budget.
Because of this, museum officials decided to use their most famous work to save the situation. The opportunity to see the Mona Lisa up close, usually granted to heads of state visiting France, has also come up for all those with enough money. It is possible to bid for participation in the annual inspection of this work, which consists of taking it out of a special display case and briefly inspecting it - involvement in this procedure was auctioned for 80 thousand euros. For a private tour of the museum with the director of the Louvre was auctioned 38 thousand euros.