Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa, with her famous smile, continues to be an enigma. One of the best-known paintings in the world is one of the treasures of the Louvre Museum in Paris; most people can recognize the lady in black in an instant even if they don't know the story behind the painting. In the nearly 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci painted the smiling lady in black, the painting has been the subject of fascinating twists and turns.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre
Crowds check out the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Today, the Mona Lisa painting, known in Italian La Gioconda and in French as La Joconde, is one of the treasures protected by the latest in preservation science. Like other fragile beauties in the collection—the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory among them—the Mona Lisa is under constant care. Today, the painting resides in a specially built, climate-controlled enclosure, complete with bullet-proof glass, in the Salle de États gallery.

But none of this means the Mona Lisa painting is not accessible; seeing the painting for yourself is possible with a visit to the Louvre. Countless visitors who came to see Mona Lisa in the Louvre have paused to look at the enigmatic smile.

While no one will ever be able to uncover the whole story behind the mysterious oil painting, several facts about the Mona Lisa are known. Finished in 1504, the work portrays Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a silk merchant in Renaissance Florence. Leonardo painted on a single poplar wood panel, which shows no sign of woodworking tools. The painting ushered in a new era of portraiture, especially in the way the subject is posed, the symmetry, play of light, and the landscaping in the background.

The Mona Lisa in the Louvre came by way of French rulers. King Francois obtained it a decade after it was completed, making the portrait part of the royal treasure chest. After the French Revolution, she became part of the Louvre's collection, except for a time when Napoleon had it hanging in his bedroom.

In the past century, the Mona Lisa painting has left the Louvre three times, but only two were planned. In 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy was instrumental in bringing the painting to America; a decade later, da Vinci's masterwork was exhibited in both Tokyo and Moscow. One of the most intriguing chapters in her history occurred in 1911, when the painting was stolen, to be returned two years later.

There's more than one Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Portraitist Gabriel Ferrier, who was born in 1847, painted several copies of masterworks including one of the Mona Lisa. The chief curator in the Louvre's Department of Paintings had the work hanging in his office for twenty years. When he retired, he donated this reinterpretation of the masterpiece to the collection. In the 1990s, the copy was the centerpiece of an exhibit in Japan called "Mona Lisa Mania."

In recent years, Da Vinci's Mona Lisa gained fresh attention with the release of Dan Brown's novel and the subsequent movie starring Tom Hanks. The Louvre Pyramid, the Last Supper painting, and the famed portrait of portrait of Lisa Gherardini figure prominently into the plot of The Da Vinci Code. No matter what you think about the claims of The Da Vinci Code, it's hard to deny to beguiling effect of the Mona Lisa.

Few works of art, if any, have so capture attention like the Mona Lisa. A visit to see the masterpiece in person in Paris is richly rewarding.

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