The Mona Lisa has long inspired fascination across the globe. Her subtle smile and complex backdrop have had generations pondering this artwork’s meaning. The legendary status of the artist only adds to the mystery of this seemingly simple artwork, and so many Mona Lisa facts have emerged.
Thankfully, we now know quite a lot about this painting. So here are 21 of the most interesting facts about the Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece that has puzzled many for over 500 years.
21 Fun Facts About the Mona Lisa
Okay, enough messing around, let’s jump into 21 interesting facts about Mona Lisa.
1. Mona Lisa is The Most Well-Known Painting in The World
The Mona Lisa has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world“. That is quite the legacy for one small painting.
With all this fame, loads of people visit the artwork, with an estimated 30,000 visitors daily.
2. Mona Lisa Holds the Guinness World Record for the Highest Known Painting Insurance Valuation
In 1962, the painting was evaluated at $100 million, which was equivalent to $870 million in 2021. It is, therefore, one of the world’s most valuable paintings.
Today, it’s estimated to be worth over $2.5 billion – so its insurance company is probably holding all their thumbs that it is never stolen!
3. Mona Lisa Was a Real Person
The painting was apparently commissioned by a wealthy silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was of his wife, Lisa del Giocondo, also known as Lisa Gherardini – her family name.
The painting is presumed to have been commissioned as a celebration of the birth of the small family’s second son, Andrea. Whatever the purpose of the painting, we know that it has certainly been meaningful throughout its long life.
Interestingly, it was never given to the del Giocondo family, and it remains a mystery why he never handed it to them.
4. The Painting’s Original Italian Name Means ‘Happy’
Mona Lisa is known for her mysterious, subtle smile. So it is fitting that La Gioconda, her Italian name, means ‘jocund’ (‘happy’ or ‘jovial’).
This is a play on words with the feminine form of the subject’s surname ‘Giocondo’. The French title, La Joconde, means the same thing.
5. Mona Lisa Was Made Famous Through Thievery
While the painting was long considered a masterpiece in the art world, it wasn’t until it was stolen that the rest of the world learned her name. It was stolen in 1911.
A number of important figures in the art world were under suspicion for the theft. Even Pablo Picasso was questioned.
Finally, a Florence art dealer reported to the authorities that a man had tried to sell him the painting. The man, Vincenzo Peruggia, had worked briefly at the Louvre, and he and two others had hidden in closets overnight and stolen the painting away.
Peruggia, an Italian immigrant, was a patriot who believed that the painting should be returned to Italy. After serving only six months in jail, he was hailed as a hero in Italy.
When the painting was returned to the Louvre two years after its disappearance, the whole world cheered. From then on, the Mona Lisa has been a household name.
6. The Mona Lisa Belongs to the Public
Because of French Heritage laws, the painting is a part of the Louvre and cannot be bought or sold. Historically, it was part of the royal collection and adorned the walls of French palaces.
However, during the French Revolution in 1787-1799, insurgents claimed the royal collection as the property of the people. It, therefore, belongs to the public and will never again be a part of a private collection.
7. Mona Lisa Has Toured the World
Apparently, crowds of 40,000 people came to get a look at Mona Lisa every day. The painting has also traveled to Japan as well as Russia. Perhaps more of the world will see her one day.
8. The Mona Lisa is Considered a ‘Destination Painting’
This iconic piece is so famous that people will actually travel large distances to visit the painting. Never mind Paris, the Eiffel Tower, or French food; people come here from all over the world just to see the Mona Lisa. Now that’s commitment.
9. The Mona Lisa Has Survived Multiple Attacks
Who would want to attack a painting, you ask? Quite a number of people, it would seem. The painting has suffered many assaults.
In 1956, a rock was thrown at the Mona Lisa with such force that it shattered the glass casing that surrounded the painting. The stone actually displaced a bit of pigment near her left elbow. In the same year, someone threw acid at the painting.
After these attacks, bulletproof glass replaced the clearly insufficient casing. It was attacked again with spray paint in one instance and a teacup in another. However, no further damage was inflicted on the artwork, as the bulletproof glass does its job well.
Interestingly, the people who attacked the painting did it in order to make a statement against their perceived mistreatment. The attack with spray paint occurred while the painting was in Tokyo, and a woman sprayed it with red paint in protest against the lack of disabled access at the Tokyo National Museum.
The teacup incident was committed by a Russian woman who was devastated that she had been denied French citizenship. So the Mona Lisa can be considered a symbol of France (much like the Eiffel Tower), with individuals taking out their frustrations against the country on the painting itself.
10. You Can See the Mona Lisa for 30 Seconds
Since so many people come to see this work of art, there is an online group queuing system in place to view the painting. Each group has only 30 seconds to view the painting before they move on. This helps the Louvre to avoid huge crowd build-up.
In addition to this, visitors don’t have to queue for hours on end in order to see the painting. So while it might be a little disappointing to have such a short chance to see her ‘in the flesh’, the short time slots help everything run smoothly.
11. There Are Other Mona Lisa’s
Leonardo Da Vinci was what was called a ‘master painter’ in his time. This meant that he had students and assistants who would emulate his style and help with his larger pieces.
There are at least a dozen copies of the Mona Lisa, mostly painted by these students. There is one such painting in the Prado Museum in Spain. Scholars believe it was painted alongside Leonardo’s Mona Lisa over the many years it took him to complete it.
And then, of course, there are the more modern reproductions, of which there have been many. One of the most notable was the replication made by the irreverent Dadaist artist – Marcel Duchamp – in his 1919 work named L.H.O.O.Q. He simply smacked a mustache and a goatee on her and called it a day
12. Mona Lisa Hung in Napoleon’s Bedroom
After the French Revolution, when the painting was claimed as the people’s, it had a short stint in the bedroom of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821. However, the Tuileries Palace was probably not what the people had in mind when they rescued her from the palaces of royalty.
Mona Lisa’s illustrious history of location also includes the palace of King Francois I, Fontainebleau, where it remained for over 100 years. It was then moved to the Grand Palace of Versailles, where Louis XIV held the painting. Finally, in 1804, the Mona Lisa was moved to the Louvre in Paris.
13. Leonardo Da Vinci Likely Spent 16 Years Completing Mona Lisa
Since the Mona Lisa was painted over 500 years ago, it is difficult to construct a complete picture of its creation. Scholars and art historians have been debating and researching its history for many years, and there is still no agreed-upon timeline.
The Louvre states that it was undoubtedly painted between 1503 and 1506. Other historians are convinced that the painting is reflective of his post-1513 style and that it must have been started after that date. Others believe that there are actually two paintings, one begun in 1503 and the other in 1513, with the latter being what we see today at the Louvre.
There is, therefore, plenty of controversy about when the Mona Lisa was painted. But most believe that the work was started in 1503, taken with Leonardo to France in 1516, and slowly added to over the 16 years before 1519.
14. The Mona Lisa is a Deceptively Complex Painting
For those who are perhaps not so familiar with art and the art world, the Mona Lisa can confound – why is it so famous and fascinating? The face is simple, and her expression is extremely subtle.
What makes it so special is the culmination of a number of particular attributes. The view in which the subject is turned mostly to the viewer broke away from the traditional profile pose that was popular in Italian art at the time. This change was taken up by the art world and became the convention. So this painting was a game-changer for portraits.
In addition to this, Leonardo was a master of sfumato, a style of fine shading that gives the effect of softly blurred outlines and features. This piece also shows the artist’s understanding of facial musculature and the skull.
The curves of the subject’s hair and clothing are replicated in the shapes of the rivers and valleys beyond her. This all gives the painting a feeling of harmony and balance.
15. Mona Lisa is Considered an Archetypal Masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance
Leonardo Da Vinci was known as one of the masters of the Italian Renaissance period. It comes as no surprise then that one of his greatest pieces is considered representative of this period.
16. The Temperature & Humidity of The Painting’s Location are Carefully Regulated
The Mona Lisa is painted on a poplar panel, not a canvas. Since the poplar panel is wood, it expands and contracts with the humidity and temperature in its surroundings. This has caused some warping in the picture, and a crack formed near the top of the frame, extending down to the figure’s hairline.
These days, the painting is kept in a strict temperature-controlled environment behind its bulletproof case. The humidity is kept between 50% ±10%, and the temperature is always between 64 and 70°F (18 – 21 °C).
Just in case this is not sufficient, the case has a bed of silica gel below the painting, which has been treated to provide 55% relative humidity. So there should be no further damage through the elements.
17. Mona Lisa Has Her Own Room in The Louvre
Since this is a mid-sized painting, it might seem odd that she has a whole room of her own. However, the huge crowds that come to see her aren’t prepared to worry about looking at other paintings when they have their 30 seconds with her. So the room that houses the painting has no other artwork adorning the walls.
18. Some Think Mona Lisa is a Self-Portrait
As we’ve seen, there are plenty of theories about the Mona Lisa painting. One of the most interesting and popular is that the painting is actually a feminine representation of Leonardo Da Vinci himself.
Some historians are taking the theory so far as to test it. The Italian National Committee for Cultural Heritage intends to launch an investigation, exhume his body, and reconstruct his face from his skull. While this might be taking it a bit far, it would allow historians to discover if Leonardo really did resemble his masterpiece.
19. The Mona Lisa is Actually Italian
While the painting is owned by France, hangs in Paris, and is a symbol of French pride, both the artist and the subject were Italian. The only reason that France was fortunate enough to become the custodians of this masterpiece is that the French King invited Leonardo Da Vinci to live and work in France.
Leonardo Da Vinci brought the painting along with him in order to finish it, as even after many years, it was still incomplete. King Francis I acquired the painting after the artist’s death in 1519. It has been the property of France ever since.
20. The Painting May Be Incomplete
A fascinating Mona Lisa painting fact is that it may be unfinished. Yeah, that’s right, some believe that the painting was not completed. This is due to the belief from some scholars that Leonardo Da Vinci became slightly paralyzed in his right hand in 1517.
Furthermore, the lack of eyebrows on the model has caused this theory to rise in popularity. Some think that the “no-eyebrow” look was a fashionable trend in the 1500s. The other conclusion is that they have simply faded away with time.
21. The Mona Lisa Was Hidden From the Nazis
Another fact about the Mona Lisa painting: during World War 2, it was hidden and smuggled out of the Louvre. This was simply to avoid it being stolen and damaged by the Nazis.
It was taken out of the museum in a poplar case and then transported by ambulance. And what a good thing it was, as it remained in French hands until the end of the war.