Why is Mona Lisa so Famous?

Some equate the fame to the enigma of the paining. Some believe it to be thanks to the great heist of 1911. Whatever the reason, the Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous and widely recognized paining on the planet.

To this day, historians and intellectuals of the art world still ponder her appeal, as works far bigger, far better and far older exist free of any of the fame that this small portrait has mangled to accumulate.

The Mona Lisa – by Juan Di Nella – Unsplash

The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa was described as being “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

This masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci. The exact dates of its creation remain a mystery, but historians believe he made this paining between 1503 and 1506. Some speculate he might have continued to work on it through until 1517.

Mona Lisa – by Dcoetzee – Wikimedia Commons

The Mona Lisa was somehow acquired by King Francis I, who was King of France. This made the paining official property of the French Republic, despite being of Italian descent.

The paining has been on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris since the year 1797. It is one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world, and in 1962 it received an insurance valuation that stated $100 million. Today this would be closer to $700 million.

The Heist of the Century

The Mona Lisa was described as being “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the worl

While the value of this painting definitely contributes to its overall fame, it’s likely that the great heist of 1911 had a lot to contribute too.

Known as the “art heist of the century”, the Mona Lisa once went missing for two straight years in the early 1900s.

One evening, an Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia entered the Louvre Museum just before closing and hid himself in a storage closet that he knew well. Peruggia had been a Louvre employee years before, and had even helped construct the protective frame that the Mona Lisa lived inside of.

Vincenzo Peruggia – M0tty – Wikimedia Commons

He spent the night in the closet, and walked right out of the museum the following morning with the painting tucked underneath his apron.

It took a full 24 hours before museum staff realized that this paining had been stolen. At the time, Louvre pairings were regularly removed from their displays for cleaning of photographic purposes.

Mass hysteria hit France, and just about every member of law enforcement was on the hunt for this mission painting.

Peruggia kept the paining in a chest in his home. He was actually questioned twice by police, but they never took him to be a serious suspect in the matter.

It was only in December of 1913, when Peruggia attempted to sell the paining, that she was found. Peruggia’s main motive throughout this ordeal was to get the beloved Mona Lisa back to Italy where he believed she belonged.

Mona Lisa – by Richard Augustin – Wikimedia Commons

He contacted the director of Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the two met in a hotel room where the paining was uncovered. After having it authenticated, the director agreed to Peruggia’s fee to keep him around. He then reported the incident to the authorities and Peruggia was arrested at his Italian hotel, paining in hand.

He was trailed in Italy, while the Mona Lisa returned to her home in Paris. Her return sparked widespread appeal following the two years of mystery; everyone wanted a chance to see the hanging lady for themselves.

Who Was She?

The mystery of the woman in the paining is something that has always drawn more fame to it than other portraits from the same era.

While it has never been confirmed, most historians suspect that the woman depicted in the painting to be someone named Lisa Gherardini; the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. It is widely speculated that del Giocondo had the paining commissioned, and da Vinci was the artists bestowed with the task of capturing her essence.

The word “mona” is the Italian way of politely addressing a woman; similar to Madam or “my lady”.

Mona Lisa – by Kadir Celep – Unsplash

Historians of the 21st century hold many different opinions regarding the identity of the woman in the portrait. Some disregard Lisa Gherardini completely, stating that other portraits of her exist that make this one seem unfamiliar.

The Mona Lisa’s identity (or lack there of), combined with the scandal of the heist and the overall value of the painting, have resulted in her unmatched worldwide fame.

Visiting Mona

To visit the Mona Lisa in person, you’ll need to make your way to the Louvre Museum in Paris’ 1st arrondissement.

You’ll find her on the first floor of the museum, in the Denon Alley.

For obvious reasons, the paining lives behind a wall of bulletproof glass. There is seemingly a perpetual crowd gathered around her, as excited tourists slowly make their way to the front for a chance at a full view.

The Mona Lisa – by Mika Baumeister – Unsplash

Visiting her in person, you’re likely to be surprised at how small the painting actually is. The Mona Lisa spans 77cm in height and 53cm in width. Easy to understand just how Peruggia managed to fit the paining under his apron when he walked out of the museum in 1911.

If you’re not one for crowds, I recommend visiting the Mona Lisa as late in the afternoon as possible when the hype has had time to die off for the day.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION – Louvre Museum
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Monday — 9am to 6pm
ADDRESS: Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
Metro STATION: Louvre – Rivoli