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10 Interesting Facts About the Mona Lisa Painting

The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece by the famous Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. It is not only the most expensive painting in the world, it is also the most discussed, written about, and praised work of art. This painting of a woman holding a faint enigmatic smile has sparked several debates across time in different parts of the world, thus bringing forward multiple speculations around it. Some of these theories may be true, while many others have no basis to corroborate their accuracy. 

The Mona Lisa Painting by Leonardo Da Vinci

However, none of it changes the fact that this painting has always made art enthusiasts very curious. So here is a blog from TERAVARNA, where we will throw light on some of the most interesting facts about this widely popular piece of art!

Little Known Facts About the Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa somewhere between 1503 and 1506. However, it is said that the artist may have continued working on it till 1517. It is an oil painting of 30 inches in height and 20 inches in width. In present times, it is one of the most prized possessions of the French Republic. It is now on display at one of the most popular museums in the world — the Louvre in Paris. 

1. The Lady in the Painting is Not ‘Mona Lisa’

Many people believe that the woman in the painting was named Mona Lisa, but this isn’t true. Her name was actually Lisa Gherandini Giocondo, an Italian noblewoman. The name actually means ‘My Lady Lisa.’ It also has a lesser-known name ‘La Gioconda.’ 

The painting was commissioned by her husband Francesco del Giocondo when she was around 25 years of age. It was supposed to be a token of celebration upon the birth of the couple’s second son and their new home. 

2. The Painting Never Reached it’s Client

Even though it was a commissioned work, Da Vinci never gave the painting to the Giocondo family. Some speculate that it was because Leonardo never actually finished it. Leonardo is known for leaving paintings unfinished and the Mona Lisa was no exception. 

However, the majority of details were finished by 1506 and Leonardo kept adding minute details like layers of thin oil glazes to it till 1519, until his death. After the painter’s passing, it was his assistant, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, also known as Salai, who completed the painting on Leonardo’s behalf.

3. Napoleon’s Love For Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa was acquired by the French King Francis I after the death of Da Vinci in 1519. It is rumored that the king had offered to buy the painting but Leonardo had politely turned him down. Once acquired, it remained in seclusion at the palace for centuries and could only be viewed by the upper class. 

The French emperor Jacques-Louis David: The Emperor Napoleon, was said to be obsessed with the Mona Lisa. He hung it in his bedroom for four years before the French Revolution, after which it was finally placed at the Louvre. The emperor’s fascination with the painting also inspired his admiration for Teresa Guadagni — a descendant of Lisa Gherardini.

4. The Debate Over the Eyebrows

If you look closely at the painting of Mona Lisa, you will realize that her eyebrows are missing. Many corroborated it to the fact that it is an unfinished painting and thus the eyebrows were never painted. However, the painting underwent a digital scan in 2007 and it was revealed that it indeed had eyebrows originally. Although it cannot be attributed to any specific reasons, the missing eyebrows are probably a result of both overzealous restoration work and deterioration over time. 

5. The Warping Frame of Mona Lisa

The painting was made on a poplar wood panel and not on a canvas. The panel is known for expanding and contracting with the changes in humidity. The perpetual change due to climate conditions led to a crack at the top of the painting. To preserve its conditions, multiple adjustments have been made including the addition of braces and changes of frame throughout its life. This has also led to warping in the masterpiece.

To prevent any further deterioration, it has now been placed in a climate-controlled room with an LED lamp specially designed to illuminate the painting. 

6. The Theft of the Mona Lisa and Mourning of France

In 1911, the entire French Republic went into shock when the news of the Mona Lisa’s theft came out. People visited the Louvre simply just to express their grief and stare at the empty wall where it was displayed. They left notes, flowers, and even remembrances as a way of showing their condolences. It was during this time that its popularity soared so high and has now become irreversible.

However, what is wilder is the fact that Pablo Picasso, who was known for buying stolen items from the Louvre, was a suspect. However, it was later discovered in 1913, that Vincenzo Peruggia stole it because he wanted to bring the painting to its native land – Italy. He was caught trying to sell it to a Florence art dealer and was only given a short sentence because he claimed it to be a patriotic crime. If you can believe us, the theft of the Mona Lisa is a legendary story in itself owing to its many twists and turns. 

7. A Mailbox for the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

There are over a million artifacts in the Louvre but only Mona Lisa has got her own mailbox. The beauty of the painting has captured the hearts of many and as a result, people often wrote letters to it. Eventually, the Louvre decided to set up a mailbox for the painting. The admirers of the Mona Lisa painting often drop fan mails, flowers, and gifts where they praise her beauty, write poems, and express their love for her. All of the mail is stored in a special archive at the museum. 

8. The Attacks on the Painting

One may find it hard to believe, but there have been numerous attacks on Mona Lisa. If you look closely, you can also spot some damage near its left elbow. It is the result of an acid attack by an angry viewer named Ugo Ungaza Villegas, who months later, also threw a rock on the painting. After these attacks, the painting was enclosed in bulletproof glass, which was a gift from Japan to safeguard the masterpiece. The glass also prevented an attack from an angry Russian woman in 2009. She hurled a ceramic mug at the painting after she was denied French Citizenship.

9. Ban on the Sale and Purchase of  Mona Lisa

It is illegal to buy or sell the Mona Lisa painting in France. Not that many people can afford it with its value close to $1 Billion, it is also prohibited by the French Heritage Law. As it is a part of the Louvre’s collection, it is a public property of France and is “owned” by the French government. Since the painting is not up for sale, this makes it invaluable. The only cost assessment of the painting is based on its inflated insurance value of $100 million which was made in 1962. 

10. It is a Fashion Trendsetter

In a book by Dianne Hales, Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, the author describes the effects of the painting on women. It talks about how women tried to mimic her smile and started using yellow powder on their faces to achieve the golden complexion of the Mona Lisa. She wrote, “Society women adopted the 'La Joconde' look (the French name for Mona Lisa), dusting yellow powder on their faces and necks to suggest her golden complexion, and immobilizing their facial muscles to mimic her smile." 

Mona Lisa is the World’s First Mass ‘Art Icon’

The Mona Lisa had become an inspiration for many artists after its creation. From Loeonardo’s assistants to artists like Pablo Picasso, many tried to create copies of the artwork. It is believed that Leonardo himself worked on some of those copies but there is no concrete evidence to support that. Not just because of the posture of the sitter, it’s also known for the revolutionary technique introduced by Da Vinci himself. He used sfumato - or the blending of light and shadows to create this painting which broke the conventional practice of creating outlines of a figure. 

All these aside, one cannot deny that the Mona Lisa is the commonly known name of a painting. It is known not just by art aficionados but also by children and common people who may know very little about art otherwise. The fact that 6 million people visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre every year speaks enough of its popularity and the love people have for this masterpiece.

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