Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa
Italian: La Gioconda, French: La Joconde
See adjacent text.
Artist Leonardo da Vinci
Year c. 1503–1519
Type Oil on poplar
Dimensions 77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in)
Location Musée du Louvre, Paris

Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda or La Joconde, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo[1]) is a portrait by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. It is a painting in oil on a poplar panel, completed circa 1503–1519. It is on permanent display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The painting is a half-length portrait and depicts a seated woman, Lisa del Giocondo, whose facial expression has been frequently described as enigmatic.[2] The ambiguity of the subject's expression, the monumentality of the composition, and the subtle modeling of forms and atmospheric illusionism were novel qualities that have contributed to the continuing fascination and study of the work.[1] The image is widely recognised, caricatured, and sought out by visitors to the Louvre, and it is considered the most famous painting in the world.[3][4]



Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, executed in red chalk sometime between 1512 and 1515

Leonardo Da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1504 in Florence, Italy.[5] According to Da Vinci's contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, "...after he had lingered over it four years, left it unfinished...."[6] It is known that such behavior is common in most paintings of Leonardo who, later in his life, regretted "never having completed a single work".[7]

He is thought to have continued to work on Mona Lisa for three years after he moved to France and to have finished it shortly before he died in 1519.[8] Leonardo took the painting from Italy to France in 1516 when King François I invited the painter to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. Most likely through the heirs of Leonardo's assistant Salai,[9] the king bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Château Fontainebleau, where it remained until given to Louis XIV. Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) it was moved from the Louvre to the Brest Arsenal.[10]

There has been much speculation regarding the painting's model and landscape. For example, that Leonardo probably painted his model faithfully since her beauty is not seen as being among the best, "even when measured by late quattrocento (15th century) or even twenty-first century standards."[11] Some art historians in Eastern art, such as Yukio Yashiro, also argue that the landscape in the background of the picture was influenced by Chinese paintings;[12] however, this thesis has been contested for lack of clear evidence.[12]

Mona Lisa was not well known until the mid-19th century when artists of the emerging Symbolist movement began to appreciate it, and associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique. Critic Walter Pater, in his 1867 essay on Leonardo, expressed this view by describing the figure in the painting as a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity, who is "older than the rocks among which she sits" and who "has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave."[13]

Subject and title

Mona Lisa is named for Lisa del Giocondo,[14][15] a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo.[9] The painting was commissioned for their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea.[16] The sitter's identity was ascertained at the University of Heidelberg in 2005 by a library expert who discovered a 1503 margin note written by Agostino Vespucci.[17]

Over the years there have been several alternative views. Some scholars have argued that Lisa del Giocondo was the subject of a different portrait, identifying at least four other paintings as the Mona Lisa referred to by Vasari.[18][19] Several other individuals have been proposed as the subject of the painting. [20] Sigmund Freud believed that the famous half-smile was a recovered memory of Leonardo's mother.[21] Other suggestions have been Isabella of Naples,[22] Cecilia Gallerani,[23] Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla‎,[20] Isabella d'Este, Pacifica Brandano or Brandino, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza, and Leonardo himself.[8][24] Today the consensus of art historians is that the painting depicts Lisa del Giocondo, which has always been the traditional view.[17]

A margin note by Agostino Vespucci from October 1503 in a book in the library of the University of Heidelberg identifies Lisa del Giocondo as the model of Mona Lisa.

The painting's title stems from a description by Giorgio Vasari in his biography of Leonardo published in 1550, 31 years after the artist's death. "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife...."[6] (one version in Italian: Prese Lionardo a fare per Francesco del Giocondo il ritratto di mona Lisa sua moglie).[25] In Italian, ma donna means my lady. This became madonna, and its contraction mona. Mona is thus a polite form of address, similar to Ma’am, Madam, or my lady in English. In modern Italian, the short form of madonna is usually spelled Monna, so the title is sometimes Monna Lisa, rarely in English and more commonly in Romance languages such as French and Italian.

At his death in 1525, Leonardo's assistant Salai owned the portrait named in his personal papers la Gioconda which had been bequeathed to him by the artist. Italian for jocund, happy or jovial, Gioconda was a nickname for the sitter, a pun on the feminine form of her married name Giocondo and her disposition.[9][26] In French, the title La Joconde has the same double meaning.


Detail of the background (right side)

Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck and face glow in the same light that models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles. Leonardo referred to a seemingly simple formula for seated female figure: the images of seated Madonna, which were widespread at the time. He effectively modified this formula in order to create the visual impression of distance between the sitter and the observer. The armrest of the chair functions as a dividing element between Mona Lisa and the viewer.

The woman sits markedly upright with her arms folded, which is also a sign of her reserved posture. Only her gaze is fixed on the observer and seems to welcome him to this silent communication. Since the brightly lit face is practically framed with various much darker elements (hair, veil, shadows), the observer's attraction to it is brought to even greater extent. The woman appears alive to an unusual measure, which Leonardo achieved by his new method not to draw the outlines, "mainly in two features: the corners of the mouth, and the corners of the eyes" (Gombrich), as firmly as that had been the use, before (sfumato).[27] There is no indication of an intimate dialogue between the woman and the observer as is the case in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (Louvre) painted by Raphael about ten years later, and undoubtedly influenced by the work.

Detail of Lisa's hands, her right hand resting on her left. Leonardo chose this gesture rather than a wedding ring to depict Lisa as a virtuous woman and faithful wife.[28]

The painting was among the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use aerial perspective.[29] The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. Behind her a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing are echoed in the undulating imaginary valleys and rivers behind her. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo's style. Owing to the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape it is arguable whether Mona Lisa should be considered as a traditional portrait, for it represents an ideal rather than a real woman. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects the idea of a link connecting humanity and nature.

Mona Lisa has no clearly visible eyebrows or eyelashes. Some researchers claim that it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck these hairs, as they were considered unsightly.[30][31] In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte announced that his ultra high resolution scans of the painting provide evidence that Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes and with better visible eyebrows, but that these had gradually disappeared over time, perhaps as a result of overcleaning.[32] For modern viewers the nearly-missing eyebrows add to the slightly semi-abstract quality of the face.

Theft and vandalism

Vacant wall in the Salon Carré, Louvre

The Mona Lisa painting now hangs in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. The painting's increasing fame was further emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911.[33] The next day, Louis Béroud, a painter, walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, he found four iron pegs. Béroud contacted the section head of the guards, who thought the painting was being photographed for marketing purposes. A few hours later, Béroud checked back with the section head of the museum, and it was confirmed that the Mona Lisa was not with the photographers. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid in investigation of the theft.

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be "burnt down," came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated.[34]

At the time, the painting was believed to be lost forever, and it was two years before the real thief was discovered. Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia had stolen it by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet and walking out with it hidden under his coat after the museum had closed.[26] Peruggia was an Italian patriot who believed Leonardo's painting should be returned to Italy for display in an Italian museum. Peruggia may have also been motivated by a friend who sold copies of the painting, which would skyrocket in value after the theft of the original. After having kept the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient and was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to the directors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913. Peruggia was hailed for his patriotism in Italy and served six months in jail for the crime.[34]

During World War II, the painting was again removed from the Louvre and taken safely, first to Château d'Amboise, then to the Loc-Dieu Abbey and Château de Chambord, then finally to the Ingres Museum in Montauban. In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal doused the painting with acid.[35] On 30 December of that same year, a young Bolivian named Ugo Ungaza Villegas damaged the painting by throwing a rock at it. This resulted in the loss of a speck of pigment near the left elbow, which was later painted over.[36]

The use of bulletproof glass has shielded the Mona Lisa from more recent attacks. In April 1974, a handicapped woman, upset by the museum's policy for the disabled, sprayed red paint at the painting while it was on display at the Tokyo National Museum.[37] On 2 August 2009, a Russian woman, distraught over being denied French citizenship, threw a terra cotta mug or teacup, purchased at the museum, at the painting in the Louvre; the vessel shattered against the glass enclosure.[38][39] In both cases, the painting was undamaged.


The Mona Lisa has survived for more than 500 years, and an international commission convened in 1952 noted that "the picture is in a remarkable state of preservation."[40] This is partly due to the result of a variety of conservation treatments the painting has undergone. A detailed analysis in 1933 by Madame de Gironde revealed that earlier restorers had "acted with a great deal of restraint."[40] Nevertheless, applications of varnish made to the painting had darkened even by the end of the 16th century, and an aggressive 1809 cleaning and revarnishing removed some of the uppermost portion of the paint layer, resulting in a washed-out appearance to the face of the figure. Despite the treatments, the Mona Lisa has been well cared for throughout its history, and although the panel's warping caused the curators "some worry",[41] the 2004–05 conservation team was optimistic about the future of the work.[40]

Poplar panel

At some point in its history, the Mona Lisa was removed from its original frame. The unconstrained poplar panel was allowed to warp freely with changes in humidity, and as a result, a crack began to develop near the top of the panel. The crack extends down to the hairline of the figure. In the mid-18th century to early 19th century, someone attempted to stabilize the crack by inlaying two butterfly-shaped walnut braces into the back of the panel to a depth of about 1/3 the thickness of the panel. This work was skillfully executed, and has successfully stabilized the crack. Sometime between 1888 and 1905, or perhaps at some point during the picture's theft, the upper brace fell out. A later restorer glued and lined the resulting socket and crack with cloth. The flexible oak frame (added 1951) and cross braces (1970) help to keep the panel from warping further.

The picture is currently kept under strict, climate-controlled conditions in its bulletproof glass case. The humidity is maintained at 50% ±10%, and the temperature is maintained between 18 and 21 °C. To compensate for fluctuations in relative humidity, the case is supplemented with a bed of silica gel treated to provide 55% relative humidity.[40]


Because the Mona Lisa's poplar support expands and contracts with changes in humidity, the picture has experienced some warping. In response to warping and swelling experienced during its storage during World War II, and to prepare the picture for an exhibit to honor the anniversary of Leonardo's 500th birthday, the Mona Lisa was fitted in 1951 with a flexible oak frame with beech crosspieces. This flexible frame, which is used in addition to the decorative frame described below, exerts pressure on the panel to keep it from warping further. In 1970, the beech crosspieces were switched to maple after it was found that the beechwood had been infested with insects. In 2004–2005, a conservation and study team replaced the maple crosspieces with sycamore ones, and an additional metal crosspiece was added for scientific measurement of the panel's warp.

The Mona Lisa has had many different decorative frames in its history, owing to changes in taste over the centuries. In 1909, the Comtesse de Béhague gave the portrait its current frame[42], a Renaissance-era work consistent with the historical period of the Mona Lisa. The edges of the painting have been trimmed at least once in its history to fit the picture into various frames, but no part of the original paint layer has been trimmed.[40]

Cleaning and touch-up

The first and most extensive recorded cleaning, revarnishing, and touch-up of the Mona Lisa was an 1809 wash and revarnishing undertaken by Jean-Marie Hooghstoel, who was responsible for restoration of paintings for the galleries of the Musée Napoléon. The work involved cleaning with spirits, touch-up of colour, and revarnishing the painting. In 1906, Louvre restorer Eugène Denizard performed watercolour retouches on areas of the paint layer disturbed by the crack in the panel. Denizard also retouched the edges of the picture with varnish, to mask areas that had been covered initially by an older frame. In 1913, when the painting was recovered after its theft, Denizard was again called upon to work on the Mona Lisa. Denizard was directed to clean the picture without solvent, and to lightly touch up several scratches to the painting with watercolour. In 1952, the varnish layer over the background in the painting was evened out. After the second 1956 attack, restorer Jean-Gabriel Goulinat was directed to touch up the damage to Mona Lisa's left elbow with watercolour.[40]

In 1977, a new insect infestation was discovered in the back of the panel as a result of crosspieces installed to keep the painting from warping. This was treated on the spot with carbon tetrachloride, and later with an ethylene oxide treatment. In 1985, the spot was again treated with carbon tetrachloride as a preventive measure.[40]


On 6 April 2005—following a period of curatorial maintenance, recording, and analysis—the painting was moved to a new location within the museum's Salle des États. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bulletproof glass.[43] The renovation of the gallery where the painting now resides was financed by the Japanese broadcaster Nippon Television.[44] About 6 million people view the painting at the Louvre each year.[8] A charcoal and graphite study of the Mona Lisa attributed to Leonardo is in The Hyde Collection, in Glens Falls, New York.[45]


2010: Mona Lisa is among the greatest attractions in the Louvre
Crowd stand before the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, 2009

Historian Donald Sassoon catalogued the growth of the painting's fame. During the mid-19th century, Théophile Gautier and the Romantic poets were able to write about Mona Lisa as a femme fatale because Lisa was an ordinary person. Mona Lisa "...was an open text into which one could read what one wanted; probably because she was not a religious image; and, probably, because the literary gazers were mainly men who subjected her to an endless stream of male fantasies." During the 20th century, the painting was stolen, an object for mass reproduction, merchandising, lampooning and speculation, and was reproduced in "300 paintings and 2,000 advertisements".[46] The subject was described as deaf, in mourning,[47] toothless, a "highly-paid tart", various people's lover, a reflection of the artist's neuroses, and a victim of syphilis, infection, paralysis, palsy, cholesterol or a toothache.[46] Scholarly as well as amateur speculation assigned Lisa's name to at least four different paintings[18][20][47] and the sitter's identity to at least ten different people.[22][23][24][48]

Visitors generally spend about 15 seconds viewing the Mona Lisa.[49] Until the 20th century, Mona Lisa was one among many and certainly not the "most famous painting"[4] in the world as it is termed today. Among works in the Louvre, in 1852 its market value was 90,000 francs compared to works by Raphael valued at up to 600,000 francs. In 1878, the Baedeker guide called it "the most celebrated work of Leonardo in the Louvre". Between 1851 and 1880, artists who visited the Louvre copied Mona Lisa roughly half as many times as certain works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio da Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon.[46]

US President John F. Kennedy at the unveiling the Mona Lisa at the National Gallery of Art during its visit to Washington D.C., 8 January 1963

From December 1962 to March 1963, the French government lent it to the United States to be displayed in New York City and Washington, D.C.[50] In 1974, the painting was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow.[51]

Before the 1962–1963 tour, the painting was assessed, for insurance purposes, as valued at $100 million; the insurance was not bought. Instead more money was spent on security.[52] As an expensive painting, it has only recently been surpassed, in terms of actual price, by three other paintings: the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, which was sold for $135 million, the Woman III by Willem de Kooning sold for $138 million in November 2006, and No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock sold for a record $140 million in November 2006. Although these figures are greater than the 1962 figure at which the Mona Lisa was valued, the comparison does not account for the change in prices due to inflation – $100 million in 1962 is approximately $720 million in 2010 when adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price Index.[53]

Speculation about the painting

Although the sitter has traditionally been identified as Lisa del Giocondo, a lack of definitive evidence has long fueled alternative theories, including Leonardo's mother Caterina in a distant memory and the possibility that Leonardo used his own likeness. Other aspects of the painting that have been subject to speculation are the original size of the painting, whether it is the original, why it was painted, and various explanations for how the effect of an enigmatic smile was achieved.

In December 2010 Silvano Vinceti reported that the Mona Lisa appears to have tiny letters and numbers in her eyes which are only apparent when viewed with a magnifying glass and shortly afterwards said that the model was his male apprentice Gian Giacomo Caprotti (known as Salid) and that the letters were a clue to his identity. The Louvre, pointing out that he had had no access to the actual painting, said that after "every possible laboratory test possible" in 2004 and 2009 that "no inscriptions, letters or numbers, were discovered during the tests." and that "The ageing of the painting on wood has caused a great number of cracks to appear in the paint, which have caused a number of shapes to appear that have often been subject to over-interpretation". [54]


Le rire (The laugh) by Eugène Bataille, or Sapeck (1883)

The avant-garde art world has made note of the undeniable fact of the Mona Lisa's popularity. Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produce modifications and caricatures. Already in 1883, Le rire, an image of a Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, by Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), was shown at the "Incoherents" show in Paris. In 1919, Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential modern artists, created L.H.O.O.Q., a Mona Lisa parody made by adorning a cheap reproduction with a moustache and a goatee, as well as adding the rude inscription, when read out loud in French sounds like "Elle a chaud au cul" (literally translated: "she has a hot ass". This is a manner of implying the woman in the painting is in a state of sexual excitement and availability). This was intended as a Freudian joke,[55] referring to Leonardo's alleged homosexuality. According to Rhonda R. Shearer, the apparent reproduction is in fact a copy partly modelled on Duchamp's own face.[56]

French artist Jean Metzinger, who was influenced by Fauvism and Impressionism, painted Le Goûter ("The Taste", 1911), showing a female nude drinking tea, which is often called the "Mona Lisa of Cubism",[57] a movement that the painter was associated with from 1908, and in fact he was influenced by Da Vinci's picture.[58] The influence of the Mona Lisa goes beyond painting, reaching the film composition of The General Line (1929), by Eisenstein, who said he was also influenced by the Madonna of the Rocks.[59]

Salvador Dalí, famous for his surrealist work, painted Self portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954.[60] In 1963 following the painting's visit to the United States, Andy Warhol created serigraph prints of multiple Mona Lisas called Thirty are Better than One, like his works of Marilyn Monroe (Twenty-five Coloured Marilyns, 1962), Elvis Presley (1964) and Campbell's soup (1961–1962).[61]


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  19. ^ (Littlefield 1914, p. 525)
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  30. ^ (Turudich 2003, p. 198)
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  38. ^ "Mona Lisa attacked by Russian woman". Xinhua News Agency. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
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  45. ^ "Highlights from the Collection". The Hyde Collection. Retrieved 21 November 2010. [dead link]
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  47. ^ a b Littlefield, Walter (1914). The Two "Mona Lisas". University of Michigan. p. 525.,M1. Retrieved 9 October 2007. 
  48. ^ Chaundy, Bob (29 September 2006). "Faces of the Week". BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2007. 
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  • Mona Lisa — from 1923, in reference to an enigmatic smile or expression like that in Leonardo DaVinci s painting. First attested in D.H. Lawrence …   Etymology dictionary

  • Mona Lisa —    Drame de Neil Jordan, avec Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane.   Pays: Grande Bretagne   Date de sortie: 1986   Technique: couleurs   Durée: 1 h 40    Résumé    Un truand sort de prison. Pour l aider, on en fait le… …   Dictionnaire mondial des Films

  • Mona Lisa — [mō΄nə lē′sə, lē′zə] n. a famous portrait of a faintly smiling woman, by Leonardo da Vinci: also called La Gioconda …   English World dictionary

  • Mona Lisa — Leonardo da Vinci, 1503–1519 Öl auf Pappelholz, 77 cm × 53 cm Louvre Mona Lisa …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mona Lisa — /moh neuh lee seuh, lee zeuh/ (Italian, La Gioconda), a portrait (1503? 05?) by Leonardo da Vinci. * * * ▪ painting by Leonardo da Vinci Introduction  oil painting on a poplar wood panel by the Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and …   Universalium

  • Mona Lisa — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Mona Lisa peut faire référence à : La Joconde, une peinture de Léonard de Vinci, Lisa Gherardini (5 juin 1479, Florence 15 juillet 1542 ou vers 1551) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mona Lisa — (1503; Paris, Louvre)    The Mona Lisa is Leonardo da Vinci s most recognized masterpiece and the central icon of the Renaissance. According to Giorgio Vasari, the female depicted in this portrait is Mona Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini, wife of …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

  • Mona Lisa — noun a) A painting by , widely considered as the most famous painting in history. Its a pretty picture, but its no Mona Lisa. b) Any piece of art that is exceptional …   Wiktionary

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