Famous Friday // Mona Lisa

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Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as the Mona Lisa, 30 x 21 in, 1503-19, oil on panel. Location: Musée du Louvre.

Now, what list of famous works of art would be complete without the Mona Lisa? None! That’s why I’m including one of da Vinci’s most famous works in our Famous Friday roundup. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa several times at the Musée du Louvre, but none of the times were more underwhelming than the first. Why? Because it’s so small! I was expecting the painting to be grandiose in scale, but it wasn’t! Nevertheless, the Mona Lisa is one of the most recognized images in the world and is one of the major icons of the Renaissance.

It’s hard for us (especially us Millenials) to imagine a world without portraits due to the sheer amount of cameras that we have at our disposal in 2018. But, this wasn’t the case for most of human history. In fact, at one point only the wealthy could afford to have portraits commissioned of them. People who desired to have their portrait painted usually had to sit for several days so that the painter could capture their likenesses in the painting. This is likely what happened in the Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa was probably the wife of a Florentine merchant, who never had her painting delivered. Instead, da Vinci kept it with him when he journeyed to France to work for the king.

One of the reasons that the Mona Lisa is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance was because of Leonardo da Vinci’s use of sfumato. Sfumato is the technique in which oil paints are blended in such a way that they seemingly melt together without noticeable transitions. His use of sfumato is particularly noticeable around the mouth area as her smile seems to flicker before your eyes.

The Mona Lisa was always highly regarded in the artistic community, but it wasn’t until it was stolen that it rose to acclaim in the non-art community. In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the walls of the Louvre by an Italian handyman who assumed that the painting wouldn’t be missed. However, the museum noticed the missing painting, and soon images of the Mona Lisa were broadcast across the international news sphere. Two years later, the thief was caught and the painting was returned to the Louvre. This art heist helped make the Mona Lisa one of the most famous images on the planet, but also helps attract millions of visitors to the Musée du Louvre each year.

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