Created by Leonardo da Vinci, the most celebrated Italian artist of the Renaissance period, Mona Lisa is a famous oil on wood painting, portraying a woman sitting amidst a picturesque landscape, a hazy and seemingly isolated landscape imagined by the artist, painted without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane. Renowned for both its curious iconography and its unique history, the Mona Lisa has become one of the most well-known paintings in the history of art.
The mysterious woman in the Mona Lisa is portrayed as seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. However, it is her enigmatic expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait its universal fame. Dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day, with sensuous curves of her hair and clothing, she sits with her folded arms as she gazes at the viewer with an apparently soft smile on her lips, an aesthetic attribute that has proven particularly eye-catching over centuries. The cool and almost hidden and puzzling nature of her smile makes the iconic painting all the more enigmatic, prompting viewers to try to fathom both the mood of its muse and the intention of its artist.
Another bewitching part of the composition is the gaze of the woman, as it seems that her eyes follow the viewer across the room, making her an active participant when she is being viewed, rather than remaining an object to look upon. However, while her eyes seemingly follow the viewer, it is claimed by many researchers that they always look about 15 degrees to the right side of the viewer, more likely at the ear than the eyes. Although Leonardo was not the first artist to create the appearance that a subject's eyes are following people around the room, but the effect is so closely associated with his skill that it became famous to be known as the ‘Mona Lisa effect.’
It is generally considered that the lady featuring the painting is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo, who commissioned it to commemorate the birth of the couple's second child, when Lisa was a 24-year-old mother of five. As the word ‘Monna’ is a colloquial version of the Italian word for My Lady or Madam, it was named Mona Lisa. However, its underrated alternate title is La Gioconda.
There is no hard data on when the painting was completed, though it is clear that Leonardo worked on it for years together, continually revising and adding finer and finer brush strokes to match his vision. Before his death, he left the painting to a friend and French King Francis I bought it soon after, for an estimated 12,000 francs. The king hung the painting, in his huge bathing suit, where decades of proximity to steam damaged it. Later, in an effort to repair it, a Dutch restorer applied a thick coat of lacquer on it that permanently dulled its colours. In the late 1700s it wound up in the court of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Three years after the French Revolution it resurfaced again, when Napoleon Bonaparte had the painting, brought it to his bedroom and named it as Madam Lisa. Later, he became infatuated with a young Italian woman, simply because, she bore a remarkable resemblance to the lady in the painting. Strangely, it was turned out that the woman, Teresa Guadagni, was a descendant of Lisa Giocondo. The painting was sent to the Louvre in 1815 and for the first time the Mona Lisa became available for public viewing.
Within no time, the Mona Lisa became an object of romantic fascination, as the suitors bearing flowers, poems and impassioned notes climbed the grand staircase of the Louvre to have a good gaze at her beauty. For centuries, it hung quietly from the walls of the Louvre, when suddenly on 21 August 1911 it vanished from the museum. It was stolen on a Monday morning, but it was not until Tuesday at noon, when the theft was noticed. However, once the theft was discovered, the Louvre closed for a week, so that the investigators could piece together the puzzle.
When a provocateur poet named Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested as a suspect, his friend Pablo Picasso was also called in for questioning. Finally, on being tipped by a Florentine art dealer named Alfredo Geri, the police arrested Vincenzo Peruggia in late 1913, after more than two years of the theft. Peruggia, an Italian carpenter, who had been working at the Louvre at the time of the theft, admitted that he had simply lifted the masterpiece, stuck it under his workman's tunic and just walked out the door of the Louvre. He said that he stole the painting with the intention to return it to an Italian museum, where it should belong, rather than a French one. However, it is not impossible that, he stole Mona Lisa to make copies of it with the help of a forger and sell the forged copies on the black market.
Though it may sound strange, the famous Mona Lisa of the Louvre has a twin. Covered with layers of dust and cracked varnish she hung for ages, abandoned in the basements, exactly from 1819 when the Prado Museum in Madrid was founded on the base of Spanish royalty’s art collection. The woman from the Prado painting bears an unmistakable resemblance to the La Gioconda, but it appeared in front of a plain black backdrop, instead of the colourful Tuscan countryside of the Louvre version, which misguided the museum authority and they took it as a 16th or 17th century copy of the original. However, when Prado’s curators decided the painting needed a facelift, as it was going on loan to the Louvre, some X-ray and infrared studies revealed a beautiful landscape hidden beneath the dark paint behind the woman in the portrait. According to the curators, the painting was actually executed by an artist in Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, at the same time as the original, probably by Francesco Melzi, one of the favourite disciples of the great master. Today, the long neglected Prado Mona Lisa is on display with full grace in the Prado Museum.
However, the original La Gioconda, kept in the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, is considered as one of the most valuable paintings in the world, which can neither be bought nor sold.