The Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world created by one of the most famous painters to ever live – Leonardo da Vinci. Commissioned by a wealthy silk merchant, it is a portrait of a woman named Lisa Gerardini – the silk merchant’s third wife.
For centuries, the painting was just considered another portrait painted by da Vinci in the royal French art collection. However, men have always been fascinated by her. After the French Revolution, Napoleon had the painting hung up in his bedroom and became so infatuated with it that he found a descendant of Gerardini and had an affair with her.
The painting was put on public display in the Louvre museum in Paris for the first time in 1815, and people – specifically men – went crazy for her. Men would stand for hours gazing at the painting, with some even bringing the painting flowers and writing love poems to Gerardini. Men would write letters to the portrait, and the Mona Lisa received so much mail that a separate post box within the museum needed to be opened.
But this madness was only the beginning of the craziness surrounding the Mona Lisa. What really propelled the painting to international fame was all of the attacks the painting was subject to.
The Mona Lisa gets stolen
The first of such attacks was actually when the painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 by a museum worker. Security was much more lax at the time, and the worker said that he was taking the painting to some photographers for promotional work for the Louvre. While money was a motivating factor in stealing the portrait, the primary reason for the theft was due to the thief’s strong sense of Italian nationalism. The thief was an Italian who believed that the painting of the Italian woman deserved to be back in the hands of the Italian state. The man received a six month sentence for his crime, and was given a hero’s welcome when he returned to Italy.
Since then, people have stabbed the painting, thrown rocks at it, and even have thrown acid at the portrait! The Louvre finally put it in a bulletproof glass enclosure. But this didn’t stop attacks. While the painting was being displayed in Tokyo, a woman – upset at the lack of disabled access in the Japanese museum – threw red paint at the Mona Lisa. Additionally, in 2009, a Russian woman who failed to get French citizenship threw a ceramic mug at the painting.
What makes this painting so unique?
Da Vinci made several artistic breakthroughs when painting the Mona Lisa. He discovered a technique to make subjects in paintings appear to be real. Photographs had yet to become invented in Da Vinvi’s time and didn’t become popular until the late 1800’s. Therefore, with a painting so lifelike of such a beautiful woman, it was easy for men of the day to fall in love. It’s like a classier version of a guy falling in love with a model he sees in a magazine.
One would imagine that a painting of such importance, fame, and magnitude would be a huge lifesize image of the woman. Given its importance in art history, its storied legacy, and its massive fame, gazing upon the Mona Lisa should be an awe inspiring, special, once in a lifetime event.
Sadly, many people who have gone to Paris, and specifically the Louvre to see the painting have been gravely disappointed. It turns out, the portrait itself is a measly 30in x21 in. On top of that, when going to see the painting, there are usually masses squeezed into the small gallery which houses it, all clamouring to take a picture of the iconic portrait.
While the Mona Lisa holds a very special place in the history of both Western art French culture, there is very little awe inspired from seeing the painting anymore, long having been replaced by “ow” as someone accidentally elbows you in the face while trying to take a selfie.