Mona Lisa

From Academic Kids

Template:Painting The Mona Lisa (Italian, Spanish: La Gioconda; French: La Joconde), less commonly rendered as the Monna Lisa, is an oil painting on poplar wood by the famous Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. The painting shows a woman looking out at the viewer with what is often described as an "enigmatic smile". The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous piece in art history; few other works of art are as romanticized, celebrated, or reproduced.

The title Mona Lisa means "Madam Lisa". It stems from Vasari's identification of the sitter as the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine businessman. Her name is known to have been Lisa. The alternative title La Gioconda is the feminine form of Giocondo. Coincidentally, in Italian giocondo means 'light-hearted' ('jocund' in English), so "gioconda" means "light hearted woman". Because of her smile, this version of the title plays on this double-meaning, as in the French "La Joconde".



Leonardo began the Mona Lisa in 1503 and completed it three or four years later. The painting now hangs in the Muse du Louvre in Paris, France and is owned by the French government.

The painting was brought from Italy to France by Leonardo in 1516 when King Franois I invited the great painter to work at the Clos Luc near the king's chateau in Amboise. The King bought the painting for 4,000 cus.

At some point after Leonardo's death the painting was cut down by having part of the panel at both sides removed. Originally there were two columns on either side of the figure, as we know from early copies. The edges of the bases can still be seen.

The painting first resided in Fontainebleau, later in the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War of 18701871, it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.

The painting was not very well-known until the mid nineteenth century, when it began to be appreciated by artists of the emerging Symbolist movement, who associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique. This view of the painting was most fully expressed by the critic Walter Pater in his 1867 essay on Leonardo, in which he described her as a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity, who is "older than the rocks among which she sits" and who "has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave".

The painting's increasing fame was further emphasised when it was stolen on August 22, 1911. On September 7, avant-garde French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be "burnt down", was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of theft. His friend Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia stole it by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat. The theft was master-minded by Eduardo de Valfierno, a con-man who had commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. Because he didn't need the original for his con, he never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. After having kept the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient and was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913.

During World War II the painting was again removed from the Louvre and brought to safety, first in Chateau Amboise, then in the abbey of Loc-Dieu and finally in the Ingres Museum in Montauban.

Missing image
Tourists viewing the Mona Lisa through security glass (prior to 2005 move)

In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged after an acid attack. Several months later someone threw a stone at it. It is now covered by security glass.

From December 14 1962 to March of 1963, the painting was lent to the United States and shown in New York City and Washington D.C. In 1974, the painting went on tour again and was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow before being returned to the Louvre for good.

Prior to the 1962-63 tour, the painting was assessed for insurance purposes at $ 100 million. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this makes the Mona Lisa the most valuable painting ever insured. [1] ( The Mona Lisa was not damaged on the U.S. tour, so the insurance value turned out to be a purely hypothetical number. As an expensive painting, it has only recently been surpassed by Pablo Picasso's Garon la pipe, which was sold for $104.1 million on May 4, 2004. However, this does not account for the change in prices due to inflation -- $100 million in 1962 is approximately $608 million in 2004 when adjusted for inflation using the US consumer price index. [2] (

On April 6, 2005 — following a period of curatorial maintenance, recording, and analysis — the painting was moved, within the Louvre, to a new home in the museum's Salle des Etats. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind unbreakable, non-reflective glass.

Identity of the model

The identity of the model of Mona Lisa is not definitively known. Da Vinci's first biographer, Vasari, described the portrait as being of an actual person named Lisa, the wife of the socially prominent Francesco del Giocondo. It is known that del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant of Florence and a prominent government figure, really existed. Little is known about his wife, Lisa Gherardini, except that she was born in 1479 and raised at the family's Villa Vignamaggio in Tuscany, and that she married del Giocondo in 1495.

During the last years of his life, Da Vinci spoke of a portrait "of a certain Florentine lady done from life at the request of the magnificent Giuliano de' Medici." No evidence has been found that indicates a link between Lisa Gherardini and Giuliano de' Medici, but then the comment could instead refer to one of the two other portraits of women executed by Da Vinci. A later anonymous statement created confusion when it linked the Mona Lisa to a portrait of Francesco del Giocondo himself – perhaps the origin of the controversial idea that it is the portrait of a man.

Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs suggests that the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait. She supports this theory with the results of a digital analysis of the facial features of Leonardo's face and that of the famous painting. When flipping a self-portrait drawing by Leonardo and then merging that with an image of the Mona Lisa using a computer, the features of the faces align perfectly. Critics of this theory suggest that the similarities are due to both portraits being painted by the same person using the same style.

Maike Vogt-Lerssen argues that the woman behind the famous smile is Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan. Leonardo was court painter for the Duke Of Milan for 11 years. The pattern on Mona Lisa's dark green dress, Vogt-Lerssen believes, indicates that she is a member of the house of Visconti-Sforza. Her theory suggests that the Mona Lisa was the first official portrait of the new Duchess of Milan, and was in fact painted in spring or summer 1489 (and not 1503 as other sources indicate). Vogt-Lerssen believes a resemblance is evident between Mona Lisa and pictures of Isabella.


The portrait presents the subject from just above the bust, with a distant landscape visible as a backdrop. Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck, and face glow in the same light that softly models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles, which includes the arc of her famous smile. Sigmund Freud interpreted the 'smile' as signifying Leonardo's erotic attraction to his dear mother; others have described it as both innocent and inviting.

Missing image
Detail of the face, showing the subtle shading effect of sfumato, particularly in the shadows around the eyes.

Many researchers have tried to explain why the smile is seen so differently by people. The explanations range from scientific theories about human vision to curious supposition about Mona Lisa's identity and feelings. Professor Margaret Livingstone of Harvard University has argued that the smile is mostly drawn in low spatial frequencies, and so can best be seen with one's peripheral vision [3] ( Christopher Tyler and Leonid Kontsevich of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco believe that the changing nature of the smile is caused by variable levels of random noise in human visual system [4] (

Although utilizing a seemingly simple formula for portraiture, the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape has placed this work in the canon of the most popular and most analyzed paintings of all time. The sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing, created through sfumato, are echoed in the undulating valleys and rivers behind her. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects Leonardo's idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo's vision and genius.

The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an open loggia (note the dark pillar bases on either side). Behind her a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo's style.

The painting was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape. One interesting feature of the landscape is that it is uneven. The landscape to the left of the figure is noticeably lower than that to the right of her. This has led some critics to suggest that it was added later.

The painting has been restored numerous times; X-ray examinations have shown that there are three versions of the Mona Lisa hidden under the present one. The thin poplar backing is beginning to show signs of deterioration at a higher rate than previously thought, causing concern from museum curators about the future of the painting.

Role in popular culture and avant-garde art

The Mona Lisa is, perhaps, the most widely known portrait in the Western world. It has acquired iconic status in popular culture, similar to Edvard Munch's The Scream. In 1963, pop artist Andy Warhol started making colorful serigraph prints of the Mona Lisa. Warhol thus consecrated her as a modern icon, similar to Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley. At the same time, his use of a stencil process and crude colors implies a criticism of the debasement of aesthetic values in a society of mass production and mass consumption. Today the Mona Lisa is frequently reproduced, finding its way on to everything from carpets to mouse pads.

A Mona Lisa coffee mug
A Mona Lisa coffee mug

As a cult painting, the Mona Lisa has enjoyed countless references in both popular culture and avant-garde art. It has been a subject of many songs, including:

  • "Mona Lisa" (1950), a ballad sung by Nat King Cole comparing his love to the painting, was the #1 Billboard Pop single for 8 weeks and went on to sell 3 million copies. The song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the film Captain Carey, USA and was awarded an Oscar. It was later used in the 1986 film "Mona Lisa". "Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you, you're so like the lady with the mystic smile."
  • "Mona Lisa", a song by the German electro-rock band Unheilig suggests her smile is the result of the singer's hand underneath her skirt. [8] (

There have been many films, inspired by the painting that used variations of "La Gioconda" and "Mona Lisa" as titles. Some of these are about the painting itself, while others, such as the 1986 comedy drama Mona Lisa or the 2003 feminist drama Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts are about women whose characters were inspired by the painting.

A Mona Lisa parody by
A Mona Lisa parody by Marcel Duchamp

The avant-garde art world has also taken note of the undeniable fact of the Mona Lisa's popularity. Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produce modifications and caricatures. In 1919, Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential Dadaists, made a Mona Lisa parody by adorning a cheap reproduction with a moustache and a goatee, as well as adding the rude inscription LHOOQ, when read out loud in French sounds like "Elle a chaud au cul" (which means "She has a hot arse"). This was intended as a Freudian joke, referring to Leonardo's alleged homosexuality. According to Rhonda R. Shearer, the apparent reproduction is in fact a copy partly modelled on Duchamp's own face. [9] ( Salvador Dal, famous for his pioneering surrealist work, painted Self portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954.

Many works played, often in a humorous way, on the mysteries and controversies of Mona Lisa's history. Fantastic theories and conspiracies are often entertained by authors of fiction. The 1979 serial City of Death in the science fiction television series Doctor Who revolves around da Vinci making copies of the Mona Lisa. The story suggests that the painting now in the Louvre is painted on top of the message "This is a fake" written in modern felt tip pen.

An episode of the Disney cartoon Doug revolves around the making of a musical play about the painting coming to life and Leonardo having to find her.

Good Omens, a 1990 novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman features a character called Anthony Crowley who owns the original cartoon of the Mona Lisa and displays it as the only piece of art in his London flat. Crowley is a demon who has been on Earth since the Fall of Man. He met da Vinci in 16th Century Italy and obtained the cartoon whilst drinking with the polymath. Leonardo and Crowley agree that the cartoon is superior to the finished version ("I got the bloody smile all right in the roughs.")

The February 8, 1999 edition of The New Yorker ran for its cover Dean Rohrer's Monica Lisa (, an amalgamation of the Mona Lisa and Monica Lewinsky.

The Da Vinci Code, a popular novel written by Dan Brown in 2003 mentions the self-portrait theory.

In the 2003 comedy Looney Tunes: Back In Action, stuntman DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) looks through an embedded "X-ray" lens in a playing card — a queen of diamonds with Mona Lisa as Queen — to examine the original Mona Lisa at the Louvre, discovering a hidden map under the painting.

External links

Mona Lisa is also the title of an opera by Max vonموناليزا bs:Mona Liza de:Mona Lisa es:La Gioconda eo:La Gioconda fa:مونالیزا fr:La Joconde hr:Mona Lisa it:Monna Lisa he:מונה ליזה lb:Mona Lisa nl:Mona Lisa ja:モナ・リザ no:Mona Lisa pt:Mona Lisa ro:Gioconda fi:Mona Lisa scn:Gioconda sv:Mona Lisa zh:蒙娜丽莎


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