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The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa, painted between 1503 and 1506 by Italian artist Leonardi da Vinci is often described as the most famous piece of art in the world. It is quite possibly the most romanticized, analyzed and reproduced paintings of all time. Indeed, da Vinci himself was so enamored of the painting that he supposedly carried it with him wherever he went.

Just 31 x 21 inches in size, the Mona Lisa is an oil painting on a poplar wooden panel. It is painted using the sfumato method, a term coined by Leonardo referring to a painting technique in which translucent layers of paint are applied so subtly that there is no perceptible transition. In Italian sfumato means "blended" and is derived from the Italian word fumo meaning “smoke.”

The Mona Lisa is a portrait of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day, seated in a dreamy, mountainous background. Besides the fact that the painting is considered a prototype of Renaissance portraiture, it is probably her smile, which seems both alluring and aloof, that has given the portrait universal fame.

Who is the woman in the portrait? There are several speculations. Often called La Gioconda, because of a text referring to the work as a "half-figure portrait of a certain Gioconda," some believe that she is a young Florentine woman, Monna Lisa, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. But it should be noted that in Italian gioconda means a light-hearted woman. Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs suggests that the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait, based upon a digital analysis of both a Leonardo self-portrait and that of the famous painting. Critics of this theory suggest that there are similarities between the portraits because they were both painted by the same person using the same style.

Maike Vogt-Lüerssen believes that the Mona Lisa is actually Isabella of Aragon because the pattern on her dark green dress indicates that she is a female member of the house of Visconti-Sforza. She also sees a resemblence between Mona Lisa and other pictures of Isabella.

The painting was brought from France by Leonardo in 1516 when he was invited by King Francois I to work at Clos Lucé. The King bought the painting for 4,000 gold coins. By 1870, the painting had resided in Fontainebleau, the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre and even Napoleon I’s bedroom in the Tuileries Palace. Later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War and World War II, it was moved to a hiding place in France after which is was once again hung in the Louvre.

The Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911 from the Louvre. Suspects in the case were French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be "burnt down," and Pablo Picasso. Both were later released. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia hid in the museum at closing time and the next morning cut the painting from its frame and walked out the door with it hidden under his coat. The theft was planned by a con man who had commissioned an art forger to make copies of the painting that he could sell as the missing original. Because he decided he didn't need the original, he failed to contact Peruggia. After keeping the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient. He was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to an art dealer. The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre. In 1956, the lower part of the Mona Lisa was severely damaged by an acid attack. Several months later, someone threw a stone at it. It is now covered by security glass. In the 1960s and 70s, the Mona Lisa was exhibited in New York City and Washington DC as well as Tokyo and Moscow before returning to the Louvre Museum for good.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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