The Mona Lisa is undoubtedly one of the most famous paintings of all time. As disclosure before we discuss its valuation, it’s important to remember that art is subjective and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
However, we explore the more technical aspects that go into appraising a cultural relic like DaVinci’s masterpiece portrait. If you’re curious as to the whole story about why the Mona Lisa is so famous click here.
So how much is the Mona Lisa worth? Conservatively, the Mona Lisa is worth upwards of $800 million USD, though this number was reached adjusting for inflation after its last insurance appraisal in 1962. A more recent extravagant analysis by the French entrepreneur Stéphane Distinguin placed the piece at around 50 billion Euros.
The Mona Lisa’s initial monetary value when it was purchased by King Francis I was 4000 crowns. The Mona Lisa has not been sold since King Francis I bought it following the death of Leonardo Da Vinci.
However the answer is not so clear cut because legally, the Mona Lisa is priceless. It is considered a part of French History and belongs to the people, meaning that the French Republic will likely never sell the painting to a private collector or another museum.
Appraising the Mona Lisa
We can approach the question of its valuation by looking at other art pieces produced by famous Florentine Renaissance artist and inventor, Leonardo DaVinci. For example, the Salvator Mundi painting was sold to a Saudi Prince for $450 million USD. Similarly, Lady with the Ermine was sold at $440 million USD to the private Czartoryski collection.
We might take into consideration how much tourism is generated at the Musée du Louvre where the Mona Lisa is presently on permanent display, however we would be working with rough estimates.
According to Distinguin’s yearly estimates, 2 million tourists who visit the Louvre to walk through its splendid exhibitions, shops and cafes spend an average of between 1000-2000$ USD during their Paris vacation spanning approximately 1-2 weeks. By massaging the numbers a little bit, we might extrapolate that the Mona Lisa (and the Louvre by extension) generate a minimum of 3 billion Euros.
This seems like a superficially plausible way to measure the Mona Lisa’s values, however it is not at all rooted in the exacting science of artistic appraisal. Firstly, tourists visit Paris to see more than just the Mona Lisa, and the Louvre itself is full of other wonders that fetch just as much attention.
A number of appraisers trained in art history and usually holding a minimum of 1 or 2 PhDs will examine the condition of the work, how much it will cost to restore or maintain and subtract that from total ticket sales from the Museum. Moreover, they will approximate how many daily visits this specific piece garners and factor that into the price.
We might take the value that the Mona Lisa was insured at to be able to assess its price point, however, this does not take into account the security measures that the Louvre invests in so that the artwork won’t be stolen or damaged.
Insurance companies are looking for a premium and trying to cover everyone’s tail IF things go wrong, and that number takes into account a whole lot of worst case scenarios, not excluding “Acts of God”.
In other words, the insurance providers have an agenda in determining the arbitrary number so that they will have to pay out the lowest amount in deductible percentage agreed by both parties.
Can the Mona Lisa be sold?
While we might agree that the Mona Lisa is popularly perceived to be DaVinci’s magnum opus, questions about how much it could fetch at auction remain highly speculative. 50 billion definitely seems unreasonable though. Either way, there is a very low probability the Mona Lisa will ever be sold, as we said, it is an artwork that is considered priceless.
The real question is why is the Mona Lisa worth so much to begin with? People are generally very interested in the mystery of the math behind the Mona Lisa.
Rise to Fame
The origin story of the Mona Lisa’s tidal rise to fame begins with everyone’s favorite dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had kept the work in his private quarters before moving it to the Palais de Tuileries.
At this point in time, it was certainly a known painting, but nowhere near the fame (or infamy) it detains today. To think that one historical woman could be at the heart of such an intriguing mystery is truly baffling.
In 1911, the painting was stolen, the theft publicly broadcast in the blossoming mass media. Suddenly, even farmers and laymen were able to hear about this famous work of art and the daring attempt to investigate and apprehend its thieves. At one point, even Picasso was accused of stealing it. Though the Mona Lisa’s eyes are always following her beholders, apparently good security cameras were not.
In 1914 at the onset of the Great War, thanks to some meticulous sleuthing, a museum employee, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught for his crime. The Mona Lisa was recovered after Peruggia had successfully walked out the front door with it buried under his clothes years earlier.
Reasons for Theft
Later, Peruggia claimed that he was simply trying to return what belonged to the Italian people all along. The first time the Mona Lisa was put to market since its initial purchase, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (Leonardo’s native city) offered to buy the piece for a substantial but undisclosed amount.
The painting’s notoriety was on the rise, and everyone wanted to see what all the buzz was about. In the US, forgeries of the Mona Lisa were made and sold at private auctions at unbelievable amounts by overly credulous art collectors.
The painting was displayed all around the world after the Second World War where various attempts to damage it were undertaken, but rarely successful. The painting was often locked in a highly secure bulletproof glass display.
This mythos spread within cult followings in art history circles and various world renowned artists from Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamps and Andy Warhol to name a few have created pastiches, or satirical imitations of the Mona Lisa. Per inch, the Mona Lisa is still the most expensive art piece in the world.