Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?

Written by on January 29, 2018 in Art and Artists, Museums and Châteaux

The Mona Lisa, known as La Joconde in France, has one of the most famous faces the world has ever known despite being more than 500 years old. Her likeness hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris and each year millions queue to see her face behind its thick bullet proof glass. Many wonder what it is about this particular painting that make it so very famous…

Just why is the Mona Lisa so famous?

The Mona Lisa was painted by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. He began the painting in Italy and finished it in France. He was invited to live in France in 1516 under the patronage of the French King Francis I who offered him the gorgeous Chateau du Clos Lucé in Amboise as his home. Leonardo, who was by no means wealthy was thrilled to go to France. He travelled there by donkey across the alps, taking the Mona Lisa painting with him. It’s believed by historians that he finally completed his masterpiece in his grace and favour chateau, though he himself considered it unfinished.

Who was the Mona Lisa

Her real name is Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo – hence the alternative title, La Gioconda in Italian, La Joconde in French. The painting is shrouded in mystery, it’s said to have been painted several years earlier in 1503 but nobody knows why da Vinci kept it when presumably it was a commissioned portrait.

Many who saw the Mona Lisa feel head over heels for her. Francis I bought the painting and adored it. He took it with him to another of his chateaux – Fontainebleau where he hung it in his bathroom. It seems strange to us but in those days bathrooms were thought to be creative spaces! Louis XIV took the painting to  Versailles. His son Louis XV hated it and had it taken away and she ended up in a warehouse for a while. Napoleon hung the painting on his bedroom wall at the Tuileries. In 1804, the  Mona Lisa was placed on a wall in the Louvre Museum, and in those early days she didn’t get much attention.

If you’ve ever seen the painting in the Louvre, you might well wonder just what is it that makes her so very famous. She, with her enigmatic smile, missing eyebrows, showing the special trademark technique that Leonardo used – called sfumato. Technically it means where colours blend in so well you can’t see where they start or end. In the case of the Mona Lisa, this applies to that famous smile. There is a veil of craquelure, tiny age cracks in the paint that cannot be imitated. But why, out of the artist’s many paintings, would this be the one that everyone remembers him for?

The stolen Mona Lisa

According to Irina Metzl, the communications manager at the Chateau du Clos Lucé, there are a number of reasons – the enigmatic smile, the mystery of who she was. But most of all, the painting was stolen, and the ensuing publicity is what really propelled her to fame.

In 1911 an Italian workman employed at the Louvre spent the night hiding in a cupboard. When everyone had gone home, he slipped the painting out of its frame and took off with it. For a while it was suspected that famous artist Pablo Picasso might even be the thief, which caused a sensation. The police printed 6,500 copies of the Mona Lisa and distributed the paper image to the public. Every newspaper covered the story. Millions of people saw the painting and had an opinion. The story went viral.

The Mona Lisa was the Kim Kardashian of her day

The Mona Lisa became the Kim Kardashian of her day – everyone knew who she was. The painting was eventually found not far from the Louvre  in what is now called the Hotel da Vinci in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Her portrait resides in majestic glory in the Louvre where she is visited by more than 6 million people a year – keen to see for themselves just what makes the Mona Lisa so special.

Chateau du Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci lived in France
The strange tale of the Mona Lisa and the monastery
Fascinating facts about the Louvre
The Chateau of Fontainebleau where Napoleon hung the Mona Lisa

Related Articles

Potager du Roi – The kings vegetable garden at Versailles

A short walk from the Palace of Versailles you’ll find the “King’s Vegetable Garden” – the Potager du Roi. It was built between 1678 and 1683 by French gardening genius Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie, at the request of Louis XIV. Open to the public, gardeners will love its beautiful paths, raised beds, statues and fabulous planting… […]

Continue Reading

There are loads of Free Museums in Paris

In Paris (and indeed the rest of France), many museums are free year-round. And, if you’re thinking that the free museums are only for hanging out in when its raining and you need a place to shelter, you couldn’t be more wrong. We’re talking top museums that you’d want to go to anyway including the […]

Continue Reading

The Musee de Compagnonnage Tours, Loire Valley

I stood on a balcony at the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley. My eyes travelled over thousands of thin, black slate tiles that cascaded down spires in stark contrast to sculpted contours of ivory coloured stone. There were endless details that drew my eye from one piece of artistry to the next. I […]

Continue Reading

Carrieres de Lumieres, sound and light shows Paris and Provence

 What do an abandoned quarry and an old iron foundry have in common? They both house magical sound-and-light shows that must be seen to be believed. The Carrières de Lumières (“Quarries of Light”) has been operating for decades near the mountaintop fortress of Les Baux-de-Provence, and is one of the most popular tourist sites in […]

Continue Reading

In the footsteps of the Impressionists on the Alabaster Coast of France

Claude Monet’s paintings of the Alabaster coast in Normandy, and in particular Etretat, are hung on the walls of the most prestigious art museums throughout the world. (Above: Etretat painted by Monet in 1885, now hangs in the Musee des Beaux Arts, Dijon). Monet spent time in the Etretat fishing village in February of 1883. […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top