The Mona Lisa is arguably one of the most famous paintings in the world.
The subject’s faint smile and haunting eyes have fascinated people for centuries.
For decades, artists and art lovers alike have studied the Mona Lisa in an attempt to understand what makes this painting of da Vinci’s so much more popular than his other surviving works.
Since the late 1400s, there has never been a painting to earn a more well-known reputation.
Why Is The Mona Lisa So Famous?
The Mona Lisa is so famous because it’s an oil painting in the style of realism by Renaissance icon, Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci was born in 1452 and grew up to be one of the best painters, architects, and inventors of the Renaissance era.
Despite what he would go on to accomplish, Leonardo da Vinci had no formal education past learning to read, write, and do basic mathematics.
His father quickly noticed his son’s ability to learn and knew that such talent shouldn’t be wasted.
When da Vinci was only 15 years old, his father apprenticed him out to sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio.
Da Vinci spent a decade training under Verrocchio, despite his talents beginning to shine by the time he was only 20.
Before he completed his apprenticeship, the painter’s guild of Florence offered the young artist a membership, but he declined in order to complete his apprenticeship under Verrocchio and become an independent artist.
Leonardo da Vinci began working on portraits from Florence after France invaded Milan in 1499, one of which he called La Gioconda.
This 21-inch by 31-inch painting would go on to be known as the Mona Lisa and is estimated to have been painted sometime between 1503 and 1506.
After years of teaching in Italy, da Vinci moved to France when King Francis I offered him the title of “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King.”
His student and dear friend, Francesco Melzi, would join him for the next stage of his life.
Only three years later, Leonardo da Vinci died at the age of 67 and was buried near the palace church of Saint-Florentin.
Melzi inherited all of da Vinci’s belongings and went on to get married after da Vinci’s death.
Melzi’s son would later sell da Vinci’s estate.
Where Can You Find The Mona Lisa?
You are able to visit and view the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Those who want to try their hand at seeing the Mona Lisa in person will want to be properly prepared for what lies ahead.
One of the best ways to make seeing the Mona Lisa easier is to order your tickets to the Louvre in advance because waiting for tickets can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than two hours.
Thanks to public programs offered by the French government, don’t be surprised if you see a younger crowd at the famous art museum.
The Louvre is always going to be busy because those under the age of 18 and those European Economic Area members who are ages 18 to 25 are able to get into the Louvre for free.
However, the Louvre tends to be less busy during the morning hours, soon after the museum opens at 9:00 am.
The Mona Lisa is located on the first floor of the Louvre, in the Denon Alley.
On your way there, you can find Italian paintings from 1250 to 1800 and French paintings from 1780 to 1850.
The first floor of the art museum has plenty of signs to indicate where the Mona Lisa is, as long as you remain on the first floor.
This French museum has multiple entrances for guests to use, with the most popular entrance being near the famous glass pyramid.
Another way to enter the Louvre is through the gift shop called Carrousel Du Louvre, which can be found at 99 rue de Rivoli.
The final entrance is located at the Palais-Royal—Musee du Louvre metro station on line 1 and line 7 of the metro.
No matter which entrance you decide to use, there will be security waiting to assist you at each door.
How Much Is The Mona Lisa Worth?
The Mona Lisa is estimated to be worth $850 million when you consider inflation.
The painting was insured for $100 million back in 1962, which corresponds to a modern price of $870 million today.
Although there has been speculation about how much the Mona Lisa would be able to sell for, the Louvre and the French government consider the art piece to be an inestimable treasure that would be impossible to sell in the public sector or under normal circumstances.
Those who are hoping that the French government will consider selling the art piece to alleviate some of the national debt will not want to wait with bated breath because the French government sees the Mona Lisa as more than just an old painting.
Some French citizens are ready to sell the rare painting, but not all of the country’s citizens are willing to let go of their beloved treasure.
Although some experts have recommended an asking price of $50 billion, many people believe that the Mona Lisa is worth much more.
While the Mona Lisa may never receive a price tag, another piece by Leonardo da Vinci seems to have found itself at auction.
Salvator Mundi, painted around 1500, sold at auction for a record-breaking $475.4 million.
In 2017, the Abu Dhabi Louvre purchased Salvator Mundi and began displaying it in 2020.
This new museum was looking for rare pieces to add to its new collection, as Abu Dhabi looks to expand its tourism efforts.
When Italy’s Gallerie dell’Accademia loaned the Louvre Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of Vitruvian Man for the Louvre’s da Vinci exhibit, Italian officials gave the sketch an insurance value of $1.1 billion.
With the Mona Lisa being a complete painting with more popularity, it has even more value.
Who Was Mona Lisa?
The subject of the Mona Lisa is Lisa Gherardini of Florence, who was the wife of the wealthy merchant leader, Francesco del Giocondo.
The successful merchant had been a Consul of the Silk Guide and owned many successful silk workshops.
Lisa Gherardini was born in 1479 to an ancient noble family of Florentines.
Gherardini had lived a happy life through when she entered an arranged marriage with her husband in 1495.
Throughout their marriage, the couple had six children and were deeply in love with one another.
During the first year of their marriage, Lisa del Giocondo befriended Leonardo da Vinci after he developed a platonic attraction to her.
When del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife, it was quite an achievement for the silk merchant.
Da Vinci didn’t normally have time for people of del Giocondo’s stature, but the painter couldn’t deny how inspiring Lisa del Giocondo was and decided he needed to paint her no matter what.
The friends wrote many letters and spent a lot of time together as da Vinci worked on her portrait.
He worked on many different drafts of the painting of his friend and often completely revised his sketches to make them perfectly reflect her charm.
With this painting, Lisa del Giocondo and Leonardo da Vinci set a new fashion trend among models and painters of the era: the use of subtle expression rather than being completely straight-faced as many models and paintings had been before.
Leonardo da Vinci would later bring the Mona Lisa with him when he moved to France and the king liked it so much that he was willing to pay £4,000 for it, which was an incredible amount of money back in 1516, equating to around £3 million as of 2021, or about US$3.8 million, considering retail values.
Who Owns The Mona Lisa?
The nation of France is the current owner of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which was acquired through the original purchase made by King Francis I.
For generations, the Mona Lisa was the property of the French royal family, but it eventually ended up under the affectionate care of the Louvre.
In 2018, there was a major call on the internet for the Louvre to attempt to clean the Mona Lisa just like some of the other paintings that the Louvre has successfully cleaned.
Sadly, experts have had to explain why the Mona Lisa can’t be cleaned like other paintings.
Since the Mona Lisa is a glazed painting, it has a thin layer of a mixture of pigment and oils that were meant to make the painting seem like it was glowing.
Glazed painting helps give subjects a holy glow, which is exactly what da Vinci wanted for his portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.
Although glazes may look pretty for a short period of a painting’s lifespan, they can make paintings incredibly fragile and can become more fragile with age.
The more fragile a painting, the more risky cleaning or restoration can be.
Since glazes and varnishes have such similar chemical compounds, an art restorer would remove the glaze that’s pigmenting the painting over time and the varnish on the painting at the same time.
Cleaning the Mona Lisa could allow the public to see the original colors of the Mona Lisa if it went successfully, but it is more likely that the painting would simply be destroyed instead.
The Mona Lisa is seen as a ticking time bomb when it comes to its care, which is why it is rarely touched.
All it takes is one wrong move and the world would lose the most famous painting ever.
How Much Does France Make From The Mona Lisa?
The Mona Lisa is worth a minimum of $3.3 billion annually thanks to all the people who flock to Paris to see the most famous painting in the world.
Some people plan their entire vacations around exploring the Louvre and finding their favorite pieces.
The Mona Lisa is bringing in more than just ticket prices, it is bringing business to all the surrounding businesses.
Tourists who want to see the Mona Lisa need hotel rooms, places to eat, and other basic necessities.
However, tourists aren’t like normal consumers who may try to save their money and limit their spending.
When consumers are on vacation, they’re vastly more likely to spend money on non-necessities such as souvenirs, clothing, and other unique experiences.
When entrepreneur Stéphen Distinguin recommended that the French government sell the Mona Lisa for $54.5 billion, critics were quick to point out that the Mona Lisa brings in more than that over the course of 17 years.
While the French government could sell the Mona Lisa for a high enough price to clear out a large sum of their debt, it would rather hold onto the irreplaceable treasure and continue to receive nearly a few more billion from tourism each year.
Another problem with asking an estimated $54.5 billion is that art dealers don’t consider the annual revenue a piece brings in when figuring out how much to charge.
No art museums are calling in economists to figure out how much a piece will bring in annually when looking at adding another piece to their collection.
Instead, art dealers are looking at the physical condition of a piece and the direct sales comps that should be made from the sale.
While the Mona Lisa is incredibly old, it’s not in great condition.
Did The Mona Lisa Actually Get Stolen?
Yes, the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911 by the Italian Handyman Vincenzo Peruggia.
Prior to the robbery, the French and Italians were mostly the only people who knew the painting by name or had even seen it.
When Peruggia stole the painting from the Louvre, photos of the famous painting were plastered on the covers of newspapers from all over the world.
Despite the robbery making international news, it was quite easy for him to pull it off.
Vincenzo Peruggia had been hired by the Louvre staff to create protective glass casings for many of their pieces, one of which was the Mona Lisa.
Peruggia hid in a closet until it was dark and then went to snatch the painting.
The handyman hid the painting under his smock and made his way to the front door.
When Peruggia reached the door, he discovered that he was locked inside the art museum.
He began to panic until an unassuming plumber saw him as he was passing by and used his key to break Peruggia free.
Little did the plumber know that he had accidentally helped in the robbery of the most famous painting in the world.
An entire day had passed before anyone realized that the Mona Lisa had gone missing, with staff members stating that paintings get taken off the walls for repairs and cleanings all of the time.
The French press was quick to bully the ineptiude of the Louvre staff and French police force.
After two years of searching, the head of Paris police at the time retired out of shame.
In 1913, a Florentine art dealer got a letter from a man who claimed to have the Mona Lisa.
The dealer and Peruggia met at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where Peruggia was arrested.
Creating the Mona Lisa Effect
Lisa del Giocondo and Leonardo da Vinci not only changed how people posed in paintings, but they created a magical pose.
The Mona Lisa Effect occurs when it looks like the eyes of a subject follow the viewer no matter what direction you look at the portrait.
Some people believe that the Mona Lisa’s eyes are actually moving, but it’s simply the unique angle that Lisa del Giocondo was posed and the way that Leonardo da Vinci painted her.
Although the Mona Lisa looks like a forward-looking shot, da Vinci was actually painting five degrees to the right of his subject and had her keep her face looking forward.
Because the subject is slightly angled, it allows their eyes to look as if they are peering slightly beyond the frame.
This pose gives subjects like Lisa del Giocondo an appearance of the viewer actually being the subject.
When you look at small details of the painting, the appearance of the subject looking back at you disappears and instead paints a clearer picture of where the Mona Lisa is actually looking.
Researchers have found that subjects that are up to 15.4 degrees off from the viewer will have a chance to gain this eerie effect.
A group of participants was selected to join a study where they were asked in what direction they believed the Mona Lisa was actually looking.
The study resulted in most people believing that the Mona Lisa wasn’t looking exactly at them, but rather, slightly to the right of them.
German perceptual psychologist Gernot Horstmann of Bielefeld University believes that the illusion that the Mona Lisa’s gaze is following the viewer comes from people’s natural desire to be looked at.
Although her eyes may not actually follow the viewer, they’re still quite eerie.
Is The Mona Lisa Smiling?
Yes, the Mona Lisa does depict Lisa del Giocondo with a subtle smile.
For generations, there have been debates surrounding whether the Mona Lisa is smiling or not, which is why the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health decided to find the absolute answer.
The German institute started by conducting two different experiments on their viewers of the painting.
Participants in the study were shown the original Mona Lisa alongside eight other photos of the Mona Lisa and were asked to state whether they believed that each face depicted someone happy or someone sad.
On average, participants were much faster when they were identifying happy expressions over sad expressions.
Nearly 100% of those studied identified the Mona Lisa’s original expression as one of happiness.
During the second experiment, the researchers added a new group of photos where the Mona Lisa looked even sadder and included three photos from the previous experiment.
On average, the participants rated the photos as even sadder than they were in the first experiment.
By the end of these two experiments, the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health found that people’s perception of emotion heavily weighs on their environment.
Like all art pieces, the true emotion of the Mona Lisa is left up to the interpretation of the viewer.
The Mona Lisa is one of the most iconic paintings in the world thanks to the mystery surrounding the subject.
Little did the great Leonardo da Vinci or his muse Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo know that people would be studying the Mona Lisa and uncovering her many mysteries for hundreds of years.