Why is the Mona Lisa so Famous?

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The Artist and Historical Value

When you boil down everything about the painting to those first few days the canvas spent in a workshop in Italy, there is still Leoanrdo Da Vinci. More than anything else, his identity as the artist has helped build up the painting to the kind of international cultdom it now holds. He is a symbol of all things Renaissance – a scientist, artist, and thinker beyond that of anyone else that came before him. For that reason, his works hold much more mystique than those of any other artist.

The mystery of Leonardo’s life as written by Vasari and his quirky methods of sleeping, learning, and even writing (backwards) has earned the painting much of its mystique. Along with that are the ambiguous possibilities of its source. No one is wholly sure who the model was for the Mona Lisa.

Vasari wrote that it was Lisa Gherardini and many people support this theory. However DaVinci mentions another woman, Giuliano de’ Medici and records in France refer to her as a courtesan. Other theories have mentioned that she actually be a he, Leonardo himself in this case. The art world largely agrees that Gherardini is the model, but the mystique remains.

Early on, Leonardo carried his painting with him as well, everywhere he went. It became a symbol of his talents and was used to acquire further commissions in France. A lot of people saw it and a lot more people were intrigued to see it. But, the early popularity of the painting was well deserved as the Mona Lisa was a revolution in the painting of portraits. He was the first to paint a portrait from the waist up, and used the single vanishing point in the background for the first time. His technique and ability to bring a woman to life on canvas was inspirational to painters everywhere.

After 1530 when Franics I, King of France, acquired the Mona Lisa, it became a permanent possession of royalty for centuries. Dukes from England tried to purchase, Emperors lifted it into their bed chambers, and Kings held it in the highest regard as a prized possession in their palaces. Whenever royalty fawns over something, the rest of the world is sure to follow.
Public Accessibility

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When the painting was removed to the Louvre in 1804 – after Napoleon’s exile – the time was ripe for people to fall in love with Leonardo’s work again. The Romantic era of painting was upon France and with it a love affair with Leonardo’s masterpieces, especially upon realizing the importance of the Mona Lisa. Thousands of copies were painted and before long the world was swarming with visions and variations of the famous painting as artists attempted to emulate their hero, Leonardo. Because she was so famous, she became even more famous, exalted if only because she was so well known.

The Theft

When the painting was stolen in 1911 from the Louvre by an Italian employee there, the outcry was immediate and the imagery pasted in every newspaper and on every street corner ensured that everyone in the world would know the face of the Mona Lisa, famous as she then was.

It was after the failure to recover the painting that her image began appearing in much less respectful manners. Throughout France, her image began appearing in films, on vehicles and soon in farcical roles in popular culture. The public idolized the image and yet mocked the saturation of her face in the media. Regardless the world soon knew the true value of the Mona Lisa.


Why is the Mona Lisa So Popular Today?

When she was finally returned in 1913, the actual acquisition of the painting made for an even more astounding display. The painting was displayed throughout Italy in a year long tour. Parades were held, songs were written, and entire books were penned in her honor. The great masterpiece was found and the world rejoiced.

Soon afterward, in response to the oversaturation of her image and the worldwide recognition of her face, the up and coming arts movements began taking notice and born were the images of Marcel Duchamp in “L.H.O.O.Q”, Andy Warhol’s colored negatives, and Nat King Cole’s songs. Her image became synonymous with the barrier between high and low art and as the progression of modernist art movements began breaking down that barrier, she became instant fodder for sculptures of her head, alterations of her face, and stories on her origins.

With that instant recognition comes all of the criticism of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa that has created a chasm in her popularity. The question of whether she is famous for just being famous has long been argued and even today rages on in many scholarly circles.

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