The Arts

The Interesting Origins of the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa is a portrait painting created by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1517. The artwork is currently considered as one of the most popular paintings in history, along with The Starry Night and The Last Supper. Because of its popularity, the Mona Lisa has appeared in different forms of entertainment and art, such as television shows, movies, parodies, and even paintings created by other artists.

The Mona Lisa is particularly infamous for its subject, who is said to be the wife of a wealthy silk merchant that also commissioned the painting. There have been many theories surrounding the identity of the painting subjects before the truth about who she is was uncovered, and even though there is already evidence that she is the wife of a rich merchant, theories on her identity still persist today. To know more about who the lady in the painting is and what made her both so captivating and mysterious among art experts, here are the interesting origins of the Mona Lisa.

Origins

The painting was commissioned in 1503 by a wealthy Florentine silk merchant named Francesco delGiocondo, who wanted to honor her wife, Lisa del Giocondo, during the celebration of the birth of their second son who named was Andrea. The artwork was going to be placed in their new home in Florence, Italy. It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci began painting the portrait in October 1503, but some suggest that it wasn’t worked on until 1506. Until today, no one knows when Leonardo da Vinci actually started working on the portrait, but most people agree that it was during the early 1500s.

Furthermore, experts have said that da Vinci didn’t finish the portrait quickly, as there is evidence that the painter has utilized a style in the painting that he developed during the later years of his life, which was between 1513 and 1517. As a result of his slow progress in creating in the painting, he left it unfinished in 1517, and he soon died two years after on May 2, 1919. Because the painting was unfinished, it was never delivered to the silk merchant who commissioned it.

There have been speculations as to why Leonardo da Vinci had a difficult time painting the Mona Lisa, but the most popular one is that he was also commissioned to do an event grander and more expensive painting called The Battle of Anghiari in 1505, which forced him to leave the Mona Lisa unfinished. It is also a known fact that da Vinci was never paid to paint the Mona Lisa, and it was most likely due to an agreement between him and the silk merchant that he would only get paid after finishing the painting. Many artists would have already thrown away a “worthless” artwork, but for some reason, da Vinci kept the painting and tried to finish it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to apply the finishing touches to it, as his right hand became paralytic around 1517.

Two Versions?

There are some da Vinci experts that have argued that the painter created two versions of the Mona Lisa, with one being created between 1503 and 1505, while the other was painted from 1516 to 1517. The first version was the one commissioned by the silk merchant and remained unfinished until da Vinci’s death. In addition, this version depicts two columns located at the far left and far right of the painting, and this was also the version that was copied by the iconic artist Raphael in the drawing that he did in 1505.

The second version is said to have been commissioned by a French nobleman named Giuliano de’ Medici, who served as da Vinci’s steward from 1513 to 1516. However, the nobleman didn’t receive the painting since it was unfinished, so da Vinci’s assistant, whose name was Salaì, held it in his possession until 1518, which was when da Vinci fell ill and became bedridden. Salaì then sold the painting to Francis I, the then king of France, around the same year. This second version of the Mona Lisa is believed to be the one that is currently displayed at the Louvre.

If there were two versions of the painting, then the first version remains undiscovered until today. Some argue that there is no first version of the Mona Lisa because the second version was actually the first, and it is speculated that da Vinci “edited” the painting for Giuliano de’ Medici in 1516 to make it look like a different version.

Movement

Mona Lisa at the Louvre

When Francis I got hold of the painting in the 16th century, a varnish was applied on top in order to preserve its beauty. The Mona Lisa remained at the Palace of Fontainebleau for many years, but it was eventually moved to the Palace of Versailles after Louis XIV assumed the position of King of France in 1643. After the French Revolution, the artwork was then moved and displayed at the Louvre, a prestigious art museum in Paris, France. However, on some occasions, the painting would be placed at Napoleon’s bedroom, and it was believed that the military leader “fell in love” with the woman in the portrait. It was during this time that the Mona Lisa garnered popularity amongst Napoleon’s men.

The Louvre still has the Mona Lisa on display, and it has been in their possession since 1797. In 2019, a queuing system for seeing the painting was developed by the management of the Louvre due to the overwhelming number of people visiting the museum. In the system, all visitors must wait in line to get a look at the Mona Lisa, and each person only has 30 seconds to view the painting.

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