The Mona Lisa is so famous but why?
From the Italian Renaissance to the contemporary music scene, Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of a Florentine woman in a mountainous landscape is known throughout the world. Such is his popularity that his image has been appropriated by everyone from Marcel Duchamp to Virgil Abloh.
What's so special about the Mona Lisa and why do we care so much? History professor and recent Leonardo da Vinci biographer Walter Isaacson argues that it is famous because viewers can become emotionally involved with the painting. Others claim that its mystery helped to make it notorious. Here we will explore some of the moments that caused our obsession with this little painting in sepia tones.
We're not sure who it is.
Leonardo da Vinci began the iconic portrait around 1503 when he was living in Florence, but did not finish it for over a decade. Ancient sources, such as the 16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari, who described the Mona Lisa in the book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, claim that she is Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. However, the artist never gave the painting to Gherardini and instead took it with him when he left Italy to work for King Francis I of France.
The painting's provenance does not reveal the lady's identity, and Leonardo da Vinci left no visual clues - as he did with other portraits of women. In The Lady With Ermine (1489-1491), the furry creature alludes to the ancient Greek word for weasel-like animals, gallé, which sounds like your model's last name, Cecilia Gallerani. In the same way, Ginevra de' Benci (c.1474–78), is crowned by a juniper bush, or gynepro in Italian — a pun on his first name. Some theories, such as Vasari's, suggest that Leonardo da Vinci never finished Gherardini's portrait and that the Mona Lisa is instead a portrait of art patron Isabella d'Este (Isabella Gualanda), Gallerani's cousin.
It's not like the others.
Leonardo da Vinci was known for experimentation and innovation, and the Mona Lisa is no exception. The Renaissance polymath broke with the narrow profile view that characterized many Italian portraits of the time (such as the Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio), and by including the model's hands, it made her appear more approachable than other portraits.
The portrait is also done in Leonardo's signature sfumato, a soft, smoky focus that eliminates harsh lines and edges, which creates smooth, glowing skin. Beneath this glowing surface, Leonardo da Vinci also demonstrated his newfound understanding of facial musculature. While painting the Mona Lisa, he also studied anatomy by dissecting corpses in the Santa Maria Nuova hospital morgue, which helped him produce the first known anatomical drawing of a smile. “In this work by Leonardo there was such a pleasant smile, it was something more divine to behold than human,” Vasari wrote of the Mona Lisa. “It was nothing but alive.”
disappeared from the Louvre
Despite Vasari's praise, art critics did not begin to praise the painting as a Renaissance masterpiece until the 1860s. The Louvre acquired the painting in 1804, but it did not attract many visitors until 1911, when newspapers placed it. firmly in the public consciousness. That year, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter who worked at the Louvre, decided to steal it by tucking it under his coat and walked out of the museum one day in August. The incident prompted a meeting of the French Cabinet and the resignation of the Louvre's director of paintings. Spurred on by the ensuing newspaper frenzy, museum goers went to see the empty space where the painting hung in the Louvre. Postcards were printed, Mona Lisa dolls were made and marketed, a corset brand was named after her. Even larger crowds came to see it when it was recovered two years later, with over 100,000 people seeing it at the Louvre in just the first two days.
It became an inexhaustible source of tributes and parodies.
The year after his triumphant return to the Louvre, Russian suprematist Kazimir Malevich created a newspaper collage entitled Composing with the Mona Lisa (1914), with a color reproduction of the painting in the centre. Marcel Duchamp soon created LHOOQ (1919) when using a monochrome postcard of the Mona Lisa as a readymade, on which he scribbled a mustache and with the phrase “Elle a chaud au cul”, or “She's hot in the ass”). Other artists followed, Fernand Léger painted La Joconde aux Clés (1930), Philippe Halsman produced Dali as a Mona Lisa (1954), and Fernando Botero made a Mona Lisa plump in 1959. After Warhol's heyday, with the boom In the 1960s, resulting in a boon for advertising (especially in the United States), the Mona Lisa began to appear regularly in marketing campaigns. During the 1970s, it appeared in about 23 new ads a year, and that number increased to 53 a year in the following decade. His face has given the products the seal of art-historical importance, as well as fueling his own popularity.
It is a Parisian landmark.
O boom The 1960s that spurred advertising campaigns also kick-started mass tourism, with Paris becoming one of the top international destinations. The Mona Lisa has left French soil few times since Leonardo da Vinci brought it to the court of Francis I in the early 16th century, making it almost as permanent as other Parisian tourist destinations.
The few times he left the Louvre only fueled Mona Lisa's fever. The most striking was in 1963, when Jacqueline Kennedy helped broker a loan to exhibit it at the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Treated like a celebrity, she was greeted by the Kennedys and celebrated with an official dinner (where dessert was Poires Mona Lisa, poached pears covered in chocolate syrup and baked in batter). Americans noticed it and came to see it in droves, with 1,751,521 visitors to the museums in the six weeks it was in the United States. A similar tour was repeated a decade later when the Mona Lisa went to Japan; the international newspaper attention that followed cemented his status as an icon. Due to its fragility, the Mona Lisa is unlikely to ever leave the Louvre again, and visitors who make the pilgrimage to see it there find it in the museum's largest room - the Salle des États, a room used by Napoleon III for legislative sessions. . The bulletproof frame demonstrates its elite status. The French Ministry of Culture in 2018 revealed that even with all the masterpieces contained in the Louvre's permanent collection, nine out of ten visitors say they come to see Leonardo da Vinci's lady.