The Mona Lisa is a painting that needs no introduction. Painted during the Italian Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa is widely considered to be the most written and talked about portrait of all time.
Every year, the painting draws flocks of museum goers to the Louvre to witness the elusive expression of the painting’s female sitter that they’ve seen captured in movies or plastered on everything from coffee mugs to fridge magnets.
Why is the Mona Lisa so famous? The Mona Lisa is famous because it is widely praised as evidence of the Leonardo Da Vinci’s mastery of human anatomy and natural realism. The Mona Lisa is also famous because of its exhibition at the Louvre, as well as its widespread reproduction in popular art and culture.
The Mona Lisa is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, making it one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world.
But why is the Mona Lisa so famous, hundreds of years beyond its original conception?
There are several reasons why the Mona Lisa is so famous, relating to both the artistic achievement it represents and several note-worthy events characterizing the painting’s history.
This article will take you through the main reasons why the painting continues to garner such widespread fame and acclaim today.
To truly understand why the painting is so famous, we need to dive a little deeper into the history of the painting and how it has been publicly received and represented. The following subsections will more precisely cover the various factors that have made the Mona Lisa so remarkable.
A departure from traditional Renaissance portraiture
Part of the Mona Lisa’s fame can be attributed to the painting’s distinction from other portraits of women from the Renaissance. While most women from this era were painted in placid profile, the woman posing in the Mona Lisa is rendered in a three-quarter angle that made her presence significantly more available to the viewer.
What also makes her stand out is the fact that she appears before the viewer in fairly simple dress in comparison to the highly ornamented clothes and appearances usually preferred in paintings of the social elite during the Renaissance.
Instead of drawing attention to decorative symbols of wealth and social status, the focus of the painting is the woman’s face as she returns the gaze of the audience. Her gaze invites us to ponder the expression hinted at in the corners of her subtle smile.
The implication of emotion painted into the woman’s face was also uncommon for the time. It was traditional for upper class sitters to be represented with stoic, tempered expressions to suggest their priority of calmness and humility over outbursts of strong emotion. This made the Mona Lisa’s smile all the more striking, leaving the viewer to wonder about her identity and experience. As a result, the Mona Lisa became a focal point for the contemplation of human nature and emotion.
The mystery of her identity
Another reason explaining the intrigue surrounding the Mona Lisa is the mysterious nature of the woman’s identity. The question has been raised about whether or not the Mona Lisa was a real person. While many art historians attribute her identity to Lisa Gherardini, wife of wealthy Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, other scholars have disputed this claim due to the lack of conclusive evidence for this alleged commission.
Because the Mona Lisa has never really been identified with definitive clarity, admirers of the painting have projected their own versions of her identity onto her. For example, writers from the French Romantic period of the late 18th century came to idealize the woman of the Mona Lisa as a romantic femme fatal figure. As a result, the woman of the Mona Lisahas developed an air of timeless allure, frequently represented and understood as a universal object of elusive female desire and mystery.
Despite the lack of total consensus about who the Mona Lisa is, art historians tend to agree about how long it took to paint the Mona Lisa and what the painting’s dimensions are. Leonardo da Vinco painted his famous portrait from 1503 to 1506, and gave it the dimensions of 77cm by 53cm.
The Mona Lisa moves to France
The Mona Lisa has also been so highly celebrated because of the location in which the painting is displayed. The painting is exhibited in its own private room in the famous Louvre museum in Paris, France. The allocation of such a privileged position in one of the most respected and visited museums in the world has made the Mona Lisa a popular French tourist destination.
But how exactly did the Mona Lisa end up in France? After having been initially painted in Italy, the Mona Lisaeventually wound up in the hands of the French king Frances I when he invited Leonardo da Vinci into his court in the final years of the painter’s life. The Mona Lisa remained a possession of the French monarchy for centuries until ownership was taken over by the French public during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Briefly claimed as the personal possession of Napoleon, the Mona Lisa was finally set up at the Louvre by the 19th century, where it continues to bring in impressive crowds today.
The theft of the Mona Lisa
One particular event in the Mona Lisa’s history also contributed to the painting’s notoriety. In 1911, the painting disappeared from the Louvre in a heist that attracted widespread attention and scandal.
After two years of public shock and false accusations, the true culprit was determined to be Vincenzo Peruggia. Peruggia had been commissioned by the Louvre to place a glass encasing around the Mona Lisa, and stole the painting under the cover of night with the help of two fellow workers. Peruggia was caught in Italy after several failed attempts to resell the painting, and was convicted of theft and subsequently jailed.
The theft of the Mona Lisa provoked so much media attention and public outcry that, upon its safe return, the painting became viewed as a highly valued national cultural artefact.
Modern mass reproductions
A big reason explaining why the Mona Lisa is so well known today is the widespread dissemination of her image in modern art and popular culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
The first notable instance of the Mona Lisa’s reproduction was orchestrated by modern French conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, who appropriated the image of the portrait for his own artwork in 1919. Duchamp defaced the portrait by adding in facial hair on the woman, communicating his mockery of the elevation and over-celebration of what was considered to be high art. Duchamp’s infamous transformation of the Mona Lisa inspired other later artists to do the same, consequently turning the painting into a popular, identifiable symbol in modern art and pop culture.
The Mona Lisa has also undergone widespread reproductions in the form of advertising and mass media, and the painting has been widely portrayed in works of literature and film. Its mass mediated reproduction has rendered the Mona Lisa one of the most recognizable paintings of all times.