Who Was She?
She is believed to be Lisa Gherardini, born Tuesday, (the only day the Louvre
is closed) June 15th 1479. She married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi
del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine merchant, when she was 16. At the time
of the painting she was 24 and had 2 sons.
What other names does she go by?
Monna Lisa was her original title. Monna is a contraction for Madonna,
Mia Donna (Madam or My Lady). It became Mona Lisa, in English,
due to a spelling error. She is La Joconde in French, La Gioconda
in Italian, “the merry one,” referring to the smile but also possibly a
play on her name, Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo.
Who painted her?
Leonardo da Vinci- (1452-1519) He was the illegitimate son of a notary
from the small Tuscan village of Vinci near Florence. Very handsome
with a wonderful physique, he even possessed an excellent singing voice.
Artist, scientist, philosopher, anatomist, astronomer, engineer, inventor
and courtier, a true Renaissance man.
How long did it take him to paint it?
It was believed to have been painted from 1503 to 1506, four years.
How old is the painting?
In 2003-2006, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the painting.
Where is the signature?
The panel is unsigned and undated.
Where does it hang?
It took four years, almost the same length of time it took Leonardo to paint her,
but now Mona Lisa has a $7.5 million dollar room of her own at the Louvre in Paris,
France. It now hangs in the Salle de Etats. It gives the millions who come to see
the painting more room and a better view.
The inventory number for the painting is # 779.
Why is this Italian painting hanging in a French Museum?
In the 16th century, The Mona Lisa became the property of the
French King, Francois I who was an acquaintance and admirer of
Leonardo da Vinci. Except for brief tours in Italy in 1913, to the US
in the 60’s to Japan and Moscow in the 70’s it has remained
in the Louvre since 1797.
What size is the painting?
It is 30″ in high by 20 7/8″ wide (77cm by 53 cm)
What is it painted on?
Oil on a poplar wood panel.
How much is the painting worth?
It has no assigned monetary value. It is priceless.
Is the painting insured?
No. In the words of Estelle Nadau of the Louvre, “The Monna
Lisa is inestimable. She belongs to the French state,
which is its own insurer, that is the reason why she is not insured.”
Why doesn’t she have any eyebrows?
Her eyebrows may have been inadvertently removed during an early cleaning
and restoration. There is also the possibility that she may have shaved
or plucked them as was the fashion in her day.
Is it true that the Mona Lisa is really a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci?
That he would have painted himself as a woman is one of many theories.
It is widely accepted that the portrait is of Lisa Gherardini.
Who Stole The Mona Lisa?
On August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter employed at
the Louvre stole the painting from the wall of the Salon Carré
where it hung between Correggio’s Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine and
Titian’s Allegory of Alfanso d’ Avalos leaving only the 4 iron pegs to
which it was attached.(see crimes against Mona). It was recovered 2 years
later in 1913 when he attempted to sell it to Alfredo Geri, a Florentine
Is it true someone tried to damage her?
On December 30th, 1956, a Bolivian named Ugo Ungaza Villegas, stared at
the Mona Lisa for awhile, then threw a rock at it, damaging a speck of
pigment near her left elbow.
Why Is She Famous?
Briefly, there are a variety or reasons:
a) It was painted by a much admired genius who possessed as much
mystique as his subject. It was a revolutionary painting using innovative
techniques contrapposto, sfumato, chiaroscuro and a pyramidal composition.
(see terms and definitions). It was admired as a masterful work, regarded
as such even in his lifetime, copied by many painters including Raphael.
The realism of the painting the translucency of the flesh and the creativity
of the background in relation to the figure all contributed to this.
b) It was purchased by the King of France who kept it in his chateau, The
Fontainebleau, where it dazzled dignitaries and members of the upper class.
By the 1800’s it was hanging in Napoleon’s bedroom in Tuileries until
1797 when it was moved to the Louvre. France was the center of art and
culture and in the Louvre it became accessible to the masses for viewing.
c) With the advent of the printing press in the late 1800’s, images
of the painting were reproduced and circulated all over as it made news.
When it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, there was a barrage of world
wide media attention which brought unprecedented familiarity to all levels
of society. When it was recovered in 1913 it made stops in Italy for viewing
with celebration, adulation and more media.
d) During the 19th century it was subject of poetry, plays and songs. She
was called a femme fatale adding intrigue and mystery to the meaning of
e) In 1919, Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp painted a mustache and goatee on a
postcard to mock the painting. This too, received a great deal of attention and
became Duchamp’s most famous work of art. The Mona Lisa became famous
for being famous.
f) It toured the US in 1963 where a million and a half people rushed to view
it, toured Japan and Moscow in 1974 where over 2 million came. Viewers
left poems and flowers in front of the painting as if it were a religious
g) It became an image of universal culture in advertising and has inspired
kitsch and admiration that is even more far reaching today with the Internet.
(Read Donald Sassoon’s Becoming Mona Lisa,New York: Harcourt, 2001).
What About The Smile?
Check our theories page. Maybe you have one yourself.