How Did Mona Lisa become the Most Famous Painting in the World?

The Mona Lisa is one of the most renowned legacies that the genius Leonardo Da Vinci left behind.Painted intermittently between 1503-1517, the Italian Renaissance masterpiece, five centuries since its creation has become the “best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in the deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her.……/ Certainly Mona Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.”

Walter Pater, The Renaissance

But given its eminence when people first lay eyes on the Mona Lisa today, they are slightly disappointed by what seems to them an ordinary portrait of just an ordinary lady, modestly dressed with the enigmatic expression that has intrigued its beholder. Some often wonder the reasons why this painting is showered with the hype. But of course, hanging in the Louvre with bulletproof glass protection, it’s anything but ordinary. The painting’s popularity is perhaps both a result of the finery of Da Vinci’s brush and the odyssey that the painting had to undertake over the last few centuries.

The painting’s subject, though there are disputes over the identity and it stays more or less a mystery, is said to be an Italian noblewoman Lisa Del Giocondo, wife of Francesco Del Giocondo. But the Giocondos never got the portrait and Da Vinci instead bequeathed it to his apprentice Salai. The painting had a wide artistic impact that revolutionized Italian Renaissance portrait with the three-quarter pose of his subjects becoming the standard as against the side profile that was popular before and inspiring other contemporaries like Raphael. His idea of avoiding to style his subjects in the fashion of the day was also revered and reflects in the Mona Lisa too, where she is without jewelry or tight corsets that were in vogue. Mona Lisa’s beauty is in its simplicity of attire focusing all attention on the exquisite face.

 Acquired by King Francois I of France, the painting stayed in different French palaces for a couple of centuries until the French Revolution, eventually finding itself in the bedroom of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800 albeit for a brief period until his exile and moved the Louvre where it stays till the present day.

Though regarded as a renaissance masterpiece by the French art circle by the late 19th century, Mona Lisa was not yet known to the people outside of the art world. That was until 1911. The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre and resulted in chaos and media frenzy. There was an investigation held and even Pablo Picasso was detained on suspicion of the theft. The extensive coverage made the general public who were not that familiar with the artwork curious about the darling painting of the French republic. Visitors flocked to the museum to just catch a glimpse of the empty space that once was inhabited by the Mona Lisa. After missing for two years, it was retrieved in Florence, Italy in 1914, stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia, a former employee in the Louvre, in a bid to take back Mona Lisa to its original home. Upon its return, it was celebrated as legendary and enjoyed a new level of global popularity. It became a symbol of admiration as well as parodies in modern times.

 Its subsequent exhibitions in the US, Japan, and Russia garnered millions of people and in 2014, Former director Henri Loyrette reckoned that of the 9.3 million visitors that came that year, 80 percent wanted to see the Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa has become a cultural phenomenon. The portrait’s interpretations and subtle details with the enigma of her expressions continue to enthrall artists and laypeople alike.

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Written By: Aakriti Bhandari

Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma

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About The Author(s)

Chemistry major with self-proclaimed good taste in Books and Music.

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Aakriti Bhandari
Part time literature major and a full time K-pop enthusiast.
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