The Mona Lisa is known as “La Joconde” in France, “La Gioconda”
in Italy and as the “Mona Lisa” everywhere else in the world.
Lisa Gherardini Giocondo (Mona Lisa) was born in 1479 and would have been about 24 years old when Leonardo painted her. Her father was a Florentine Nobel Antonio Maria Di Noldo Gherardini.
In 1495 at the age of 16, Lisa married Francesco Di Bartolomeo Di Zanobi del Giocondo who was twice a widower and 19 years her senior. He became wealthy in the silk trade and is believed to have commissioned da Vinci to paint his wife’s portrait though it did not end up in his collection.
Leonardo da Vinci carried the Mona Lisa with him for years. Took it to Milan, Rome and France. Impressing other painters with his mastery of style and techniques never seen before.
Sfumato [sfoo MAH toh] is an effect used by da Vinci to create the Mona Lisa. The word “sfumato” is derived from the Italian word “sfumare”, which means “to evaporate”. In the Mona Lisa, da Vinci used this technique by shading tones into each other to create soft blurred outlines. Tones blend (or evaporate) into one another to eliminate sharp lines and create an atmospheric effect.
The name Vinci comes form the word for the rushes that grow in the banks of a local stream. Leonardo identified himself with the interlacing Vinci plant which was often woven and braided. It became a recurring theme in his work. He drew several elaborate entwined knots in his notebooks and painted them as details; including the bodice of Mona Lisa’s dress.
In the 1530’s the painting was acquired by Francis I, King of France for approximately $105,000. Viewing was reserved for the upper class at the Fontainebleau, a 16th century chateau.
By 1625 the painting was already famous and the Duke of Buckingham tried to acquire it for England.
In the 1650’s, before it became a museum, the painting was moved to the Louvre, a royal residence.
During the 1700’s it was kept in the king’s private residence. In the 1800’s it hung in Napoleons bedroom in the Tuileres until 1804 when it was moved to the Grand Galleries of the Louvre Museum.
When the Louvre opened to the public, the Mona Lisa became accessible to the masses. Many painted copies and reproductions emerged. Writers and poets wrote about her, and idealized her. By the mid-1800’s she was a legend.
In 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen from the museum. Newspapers wrote about it, printed her picture, offered rewards. She became the subject of plays, cartoons and tribute making her a household name.
Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning in 1911 when the Mona Lisa was stolen. He had previously purchased stone sculptures from an acquaintance (named Pieret) which had actually been stolen from the Louvre months before the Mona Lisa disappeared. Picasso thought Pieret might have also stolen the Mona Lisa.
In 1939 when France entered World War II the Louvre evacuated most works of art including the Mona Lisa, loading them into freight trains taking them to more than 72 storerooms away from Paris.
La Joconde a le sourire, or “the Mona Lisa is still smiling,” served as a coded message during World War II to indicate the works of art in storage were safe.
In 1963 the Mona Lisa was shown at the National Gallery in the U.S. where a million and a half viewers stood in line for a glimpse of her.
In 1963 Salvador Dali wrote an article for Art News discussing his theories on why the Mona Lisa has provoked “violent and varied kinds of aggressions”, such as Duchamp’s creation “L.H.O.O.Q.” The article was reprinted by Art News in celebration of the publications 90ith anniversary. It can be found in the November 1992 edition, page 166.
The Mona Lisa was displayed in Japan at the Tokyo National Museum in the Spring of 1974. The painting attracted over 1.5 million visitors creating a record for exhibition attendance in Japan. This record has yet to be broken.
The triplex glass box protecting the Mona Lisa was a gift from the Japanese after its tour there in 1974.
In 1982, Japanese artist Tadahiko Ogawa of Kyoko Japan recreated “The Mona Lisa” in a toaster from 65 pieces of white bread. This was the first in his series of toaster made pieces. Others include da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”
In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci designed a bridge to span the Golden Horn inlet at Istanbul. A smaller adaptation of Leonardo’s design was constructed in the town of Aas in southern Norway. The bridge, often referred to as the “Mona Lisa” of bridges now links Oslo with Aas.
Lego artist Eric Harshbarger created a piece titled Mona Lego; in November of 2000. Harshbarger masterfully recreated the Mona Lisa using over 30,000 Lego’s in the 6 basic LEGO colors: black, blue, green, red, white, and yellow.
The smallest Mona Lisa was painted by Yves Gerard from Luxembourg. The piece measures 9×13 millimeters. It is currently housed at the Musee de la Miniature in Drome France.
Contemporary artist Karen Eland created her rendition of the Mona Lisa, titled Mona Latte by using coffee as paint.
Karen Savell created the World’s Largest Paint-by-Number Mona Lisa, titled Mega Mona. It measures a whopping 44” X 62” on canvas!
A Mona Lisa character appeared in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Episode titled “Raphael Meets His Match.” The Turtles (Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello) join Mona Lisa (who is also a turtle) to capture the evil captain who transformed her into a mutant.
The Mona Lisa appears on a limited edition Artifact card from the Star Trek: Next Generation customizable card game. The image of a Federation shuttle is visible in the background of the painting.
You may grow a Mona Lisa in your garden by planting a “Mona Lisa” lily. This beautiful fragrant flower grows to about two feet high or less and is beautifully colored in various shades of pink.
Since 1990, French performance artist Orlan has undergone plastic surgery six times in order to look like a computer generated ideal pieced together with traits found in art. Surgeons altered her face by giving the artist Mona Lisa’s forehead, the nose of Gerome’s Psyche, the chin of Botticelli’s Venus as well as other traits from various works. Each operation is treated as a performance piece Orlan refers to as “Carnal art.”
In 2000 a huge exhibition called “Les 100 Sourires de Monna Lisa
(The 100 Smiles of Mona Lisa)” toured Japan. The exhibition featured works of artists who have copied and parodied da Vinci’s masterpieces over the past five centuries. Some works included in the exhibition were Duchamps famous parody “L.H.O.O.Q” and Botero’s “Mona Lisa at the Age of Thirteen.” A painting of the landscape background titled “Back in Five Minutes” was also included in the exhibition, which was painted by
A mini series titled “Mona Lisa no Hohoemi (Mona Lisa’s Smile)”
aired in Japan from January 12 through March 2002. The show alleges that da Vinci secretly painted another version of the Mona Lisa that is believed to be somewhere in Japan. The main character, Tachibana Masayuki, is a famous auctioneer on a quest to locate the da Vinci’s work for his own collection.
Because the Mona Lisa is priceless she is uninsured. (See FAQ page for more information).