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Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa: History and Curiosities

Mona Lista is probably the most famous painting in the world and certainly the most enigmatic. With many theories behind the work and its author, nothing fairer will receive all this attention.

But few people know that it was not always like that. Mona Lisa, or a story it’s known for, La Gioconda, had a similar story to success, which didn’t also match how back in the year the painting took a turn.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa: History and Curiosities

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Who was Mona Lisa?

Much is speculated about the person painted in the portrait. The theory most accepted by historians is that the portrait model was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a merchant of fabrics and silk from a noble family who lived in Florence.

That would explain the name of the painting. Lisa was the name of Francesco’s wife, and Mona is the Italian equivalent of “Dona”. The other name by which he is known is La Gioconda, which would be the feminine variant of the surname of Francesco del Giocondo.

Lisa was a member of the Gherardini family, a noble family from Tuscany and Florence. Born in Florence, Lisa was married in her teens to Francesco, with whom she had five children. Despite being from a noble family, they lived a modest life.

In 1499, Francesco was appointed to an official position, it is believed that the appointment came thanks to the contacts and business he had with the Medici family at the time.

Francesco is believed to have died in the plague of 1538. Isa also fell ill and her daughter took her to the convent for treatment. Some believe that she eventually died in 1542, but some accounts say that Lisa lived until 1551 when she must have been 71 or 72 years old.

💵How much is the Mona Lisa worth today? The Mona Lisa painting is protected by a French heritage protection law that makes it impossible to sell, but it is estimated that the work’s market value is US$2.5 billion. This estimate is from 2014.

Mona Lisa no Museu do Louvre

Why did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa?

The painting was requested from Leonardo da Vinci by Lisa’s husband, Francesco. Lisa was 24 years old at the time.

Da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in October 1503, it is believed to have been “finished” in 1506. However, Leonardo Da Vinci continued to retouch the picture frequently until 1517.

🧐Did you know? One of the techniques used by da Vinci in the Mona Lisa painting is known as Sfumato, used to create smooth gradients between tones. The technique was famous in the Renaissance era, but Da Vinci was the most prominent artist in the technique.

The painting was never delivered to Francesco del Giocondo. Some believe that with Da Vinci’s delay, the merchant ended up giving up on the purchase.

Mona Lisa ended up becoming almost an obsession for Leonardo Da Vinci, records say that he took the painting with him, and rolled it up, wherever he went.

It’s understandable, as he used unique painting techniques on the Mona Lisa, and at that time Leonardo knew the work’s potential.

How did the Mona Lisa end up in France?

Francisco I da França
Francis I of France

In 1506, after an invitation from the French King Francis I, Da Vinci moved to Paris, to work in the king’s court, and took with him the painting of the Mona Lisa.

The work was then purchased by King Francis I in 1518 from Da Vinci or his assistant Sarai, who some believe received the Mona Lisa as a gift from his master, this theory is still hotly debated.

The painting was then exhibited at the Palace of Fontainebleau, and later, at the Palace of Versailles. It was not until after the French Revolution that the painting was transferred to the Louvre, first to the apartments of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and then transferred to the exhibition galleries, where it was displayed in a common corridor, along with other works.

Read: Louvre Museum: Masterpieces you can’t miss

👉 Did you know? Mona Lisa has only been out of France twice since Da Vinci took her there. The first was at the request of the then-First Lady of the United States, Jackie Kennedy. Mona Lisa was shipped to the US, in a first-class private cabin, to be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Ten years after that, the Mona Lisa was exhibited in Japan. Today the painting can only be seen in France, as travel was banned for our muse, Mona Lisa. 

Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world?

On August 21, 1911, everything changed for the Mona Lisa. After 400 years of silent existence, the painting was stolen from the Louvre museum by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian who had previously worked at the Louvre.

The theft was only noticed 28 hours later. The painting was missing for 2 years, during which many people investigated the house, including the painter Pablo Picasso and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Mona Lisa was found on December 13, 1913, under a hotel bed in Florence.

Vincenzo said that his act was patriotic and that his intention was to take back to Italy the works of art stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte. Mona Lisa, however, had not been brought to France as booty, but acquired by King Francis I, as mentioned above.

The coverage of the case was so much, and so long and epic, that it ended up turning Mona Lisa into a celebrity. Today it is exposed behind armored glass to prevent possible theft.

📌How many paintings did Leonardo Da Vinci paint? Despite his fame as a painter, Da Vinci painted only 20 paintings in his lifetime. Of this, Mona Lisa was the only one whose authorship never left the researchers in doubt.

The landscape behind Lisa

For many years, researchers have tried to decipher where the landscape painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, which served as the background for the Mona Lisa, was located, and whether the landscape was indeed real.

The site has been identified as being a panorama seen from a window of Malaspina dal Verme Castle, located in the town of Bobbio, near Milan, in northern Italy.

Da Vinci lived in the region from 1482 to 1499, when he worked for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

The castle and the window overlooking the panorama still exist today.

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