Probably the most recognizable painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Mona Lisa' is the subject of countless academic papers, debate and even parodies. It is considered one of da Vinci’s finest works, but skill is not the only reason why it stands the test of time as one of the greatest masterpieces ever painted, as many refer to its aura of mystique, its half-smile, and its gaze, which seems to follow you no matter where you stand. Here are 5 things you might not know about the Mona Lisa:
1. It is not the only version of the painting
At least two more versions of the same painting exist. One by da Vinci himself, and the other by his apprentice. Raphael seems to also have made a draft of the painting after seeing it in Leonardo’s studio.
2. It is a rather small painting
The painting is a mere 30 inches over 21 inches (76x53 cm). Not a large painting by any measure. This is the source of much frustration for visitors in the Louvre, who find it necessary to fight their way through a crowd to get a good look at it.
3. It has been stolen, but not for money
In 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre, causing great panic. Even Picasso was a suspect in the theft. For two years, the smiling lady was gone from the Louvre’s wall when the culprit finally surfaced and tried to sell it to the Uffizi in Florence. The man was Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee and an Italian patriot, who believed da Vinci’s work should remain on Italian soil.
4. It is revolutionary because of what can’t be seen
The eyes and the smile may be interesting, but what really makes Mona Lisa important is the way da Vinci employs darkness and shadows to create an illusion of depth. That technique, called chiaroscuro, was actually pioneered by da Vinci and influenced generations of artists afterward, especially in the Baroque.
5. We know who Lisa is
Though the painting has a mysterious aura to it, the identity of the model is no mystery. The painting was commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo, and the model is his wife, Lisa. The painting is also called “La Gioconda”, a play on the model’s surname that also means “the jocund one”, a reference to Lisa’s famous smile.