“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
– Leonardo da Vinci
Over five million visitors visit the Mona Lisa per year, undoubtedly the most well-known painting in the world to get a glace of the Mona Lisa’s mystique smile. Painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506, it is considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance. Over the years, the piece has become known as one of the most recognizable and skillfully executed works of art.
The painting is also known as the “La Joconde” or “La Gioconda”, and the original painting size was 77 x 53 cm (30 x 20 7/8 in). After being acquired by King Francis I of France, it is now owned by the French Republic. Since 1804, it has been on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. She even has her own room in the museum with a little spotlight that brings out the true colours of da Vinci’s original paints. In fact, she also has a mailbox in which she receives plenty of love letters regularly. A glass ceiling lets in natural light, a shatter-proof glass display case, and is in a climate-controlled environment.
Who was the Woman in the Painting?
Throughout the centuries, there have been many speculations as to who the female in the Mona Lisa painting was. It was first suggested that Mona Lisa was a noblewoman named Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua, Duchess of Francavilla. Some art experts started to believe that it was a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself, due to the similarity of his face with the painting.
Nowadays, most art historians believe that it is the half-length portrait of a woman believed to be Lisa Gherardini. Her husband was a rich silk merchant from Florence named Francesco del Giocondo and it is thought that he ordered the painting for their new home to celebrate the birth of Andrea, their second son.
The woman in the portrait is dressed in the Florentine fashion of her age and seated upright on an armchair with an imaginary landscape as a background. She’s dressed simply in a translucent veil, dusky robes, and no ornaments. Behind her is a hazy and seemingly isolated scenery imagined by da Vinci and painted using sfumato. Sfumato is a painting technique where sharp edges are shaded to create an uncannily graphic effect. The woman sits with her arms folded as she gazes at the viewer and seems to have an ambiguous natured smile, which makes this iconic painting even more popular. She appears alive and her gaze is fixed on the observer.
Various people have made different interpretations of the Mona Lisa’s smile. It almost looks like her smile reacts to the observer’s gaze. Her smile is a combination of art, science, optics and illusion. Although some people believe she looks upset, multiple studies have shown that she is indeed happy.
A long-standing question among the public is why does Mona Lisa not appear to have visible eyebrows or eyelashes. It used to be said that this was common in that era for women to pluck their eyebrow hairs. But in 2007, a Parisian engineer and inventor Pascal Cotte found with his ultra-detailed digital scans that Leonardo da Vinci had originally painted with eyelashes and visible eyebrows, but these have gradually disappeared over time, due to overcleaning. He found one brushstroke of a single hair over the left eye. He also discovered that her hands were in a different position than it is now. Her face was also wider, and she had a more expressive smile as opposed to the ambiguous one she has now.
Theft and Vandalism
The painting had always been considered a highly regarded work in the art world but when it was stolen in 1911 by a Louvre employee named Vincenzo Peruggia, it led to a massive increase in public recognition. He believed that the painting should be returned to Italy for display, as he was an Italian nationalist. He kept the painting with him for two years before he was caught trying to sell it to a gallery in Florence, Italy. Peruggia served six months in prison for the theft and was honoured for his patriotism in Italy. This robbery was broadcasted worldwide, so this masterpiece became famous because of a thief! In the 1950s, the painting was the subject of several attempts at vandalism. The damage is faint but still noticeable. 1956, in particular, was a bad year. One person threw acid at the painting and another person hit it with a rock.
This painting, viewed as the ideal of beauty and perfection is a perfect representation of the great artist Leonardo da Vinci. Along with the portrait of a young woman, he has also left behind one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Nobody knows when this portrait was painted or who the woman really is. It is a highly valuable painting, and art lovers would argue that it is priceless. But if you had to place a value on it, it would be worth at least 700 million dollars in art auctions. But she cannot be bought or sold as she belongs to the French government. She now sits majestically in the museum, waiting for someone to understand the pain in her eyes, despite her beautiful smile.