Why the Mona Lisa is such an iconic painting

Why the Mona Lisa is such an iconic painting

Why the Mona Lisa is such an iconic painting

May 26, 2022


The secret of the popularity of one of the most outstanding portraits of the Renaissance lies not only in the genius of its author.
Photo by Liza Zakharova

Lisa Zakharova

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Why the Mona Lisa is such an iconic painting


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How the Mona Lisa was created

It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci began work on it in 1503 commissioned by a Florentine businessman. This is a portrait of the entrepreneur’s wife, Lisa Gherardini. The artist painted the picture for more than 10 years, but never finished it.

Throughout his life, Leonardo da Vinci carried out pioneering research into the laws of optics. This knowledge helped him discover and use unusual artistic techniques when creating paintings. The Mona Lisa is no exception.

Illustration: Mona Lisa / Leonardo da Vinci / Public Domain

The artist applied an aerial perspective and created the illusion of depth, making distant images more hazy. In addition, da Vinci used sfumato, a subtle gradation of colors that softened the edges of the shapes. But it was not these artistic techniques that made the picture truly famous.

Of course, all these are revolutionary painting techniques. However, the history of art knows many outstanding works. Why did the Mona Lisa become so popular? The answer to this question lies outside the canvas.

How the Mona Lisa became iconic

After the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the painting began to be exhibited in public by the King of France, Francis I, who became the first owner of the painting. In 1550, the Italian painter and art critic Giorgio Vasari published biographies of his compatriots, the masters of the Renaissance. The book was translated into several languages ​​and widely distributed, and the “Mona Lisa” in it described as a “hypnotic imitation of life”.

Over time, the portrait of Lisa Gherardini became one of the most enviable works of the French royal collection. It hung in Napoleon’s bedroom, and when it finally got to the Louvre, people often came there to see with their own eyes the painting that used to belong to deposed aristocrats.

In the 19th century, European experts further inflated the significance of the Mona Lisa. In 1854, art critic Alfred Dumesnil associated her smile with “treacherous attraction.” A year later, the romantic poet Théophile Gautier wrote about her “mocking lips” and “a look that promises unknown pleasures.” And in 1869, art critic Walter Pater described the portrait as “the epitome of timeless feminine beauty.”

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Mona Lisa had acquired rave reviews, but still had not received cult status. She reached a new level of fame after the theft in 1911. The incident made headlines, and people gathered at the empty space in the museum where the painting used to hang.

The glazier Vincenzo Perugia, who stole the Mona Lisa, kept it in a suitcase with a double bottom for two years, and then agreed to sell it in Italy. He considered himself a patriot who returns a work of art to his homeland. The police did not appreciate such patriotism. The thief was immediately arrested, and the painting was transferred to the museum. The triumphant return, of course, was followed by new headlines in the newspapers.

The next decades too were intense: Conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp ridiculed the painting, it was hunted by Nazi art collectors, jazz singer Nat King Cole sang a song about it, and many museum visitors tried to deface it with stones, paint and acid.

“Mona Lisa” is still in the Louvre, but in a bulletproof case that protects even from earthquakes. This painting remains not only a shining example of Renaissance portraiture, but also a testament to how society “creates celebrities” and maintains their status.

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Article source: Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?
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