The most famous painting of them all. But why?
She’s not particularly pretty, she’s a bit dull if you ask me, she doesn’t have enough eyebrows. Granted Leonardo da Vinci was a genius of his time but he had done far better work.
Just look at the wings of the angel Gabriel in the painting the Annunciation. I totally admit that da Vinci should be celebrated for his contribution to humanity, but this painting hardly captures his true genius.
When was she created?
So let’s quickly look at the time in which it was created, she was painted in 1503. However, that’s not the important timestamp, the important timestamp is when she became famous, which was in a completely different period of time with a completely different zeitgeist.
When was she stolen, and when did she become famous?
The Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911, so this is what happened.
So Napoleon, who was French, goes over the Alps with his horse, and he conquers Italy.
Fast-forward to the Battle of Waterloo, his defeat and his exile, and later his death. The Italians had always felt that they had been cheated by the French, and that in this time the French kind stole a lot of Italian art, and claimed it to be their own.
Now, on the plus side this has given us the Louvre, because Napoleon started the Louvre and he took all these beautiful art pieces and collected it in, now, probably the world’s most famous art museum, for everybody to enjoy.
Fast-forward to 1911. There is a janitor working at the Louvre, and this is before Beagle Watch, this is before ADT, before lasers, before sharks with lasers, and there is no real security, it’s not like when you go to the Louvre now and you step over the red tape, there’s alarms and people ready to arrest you and insult you.
It’s much more chilled, security is a loose concept and this janitor is working at the Louvre. He is Italian and he feels very patriotic and he decides one day, he’s a mastermind and has a plan in his head that he is going to restore Italy’s greatness; he is going to take a painting from the Louvre that was originally painted by an Italian painter, and give it back to Italy, and he will be a national hero.
Remember the zeitgeist in 1911 in Italy was very much ripe and ready to born the dictator Mussolini.
So this janitor decides that he needs to steal some important Italian art and give it back to its rightful place so that he can be a national hero.
At that point it is really important to note that the art in the Louvre was hanging salon-style, there were paintings all over the place staggered together like Tetris blocks – it wasn’t a hanging gallery-style like what we see now.
So the janitor walked around and he just kind of thought “You know what, I’m going to take one that’s travel size for more convenience”, so he literally decided on a smallish painting that could fit in his suitcase – this old leather suitcase that he had.
This is why the Mona Lisa was ultimately chosen, not because of her style or how amazingly Da Vinci painted it, but because of her size, and the reason she was travel-sized was because Da Vinci travelled with her on his back for 4 years, rolled up.
How did the Italians feel about Da Vinci?
Now, this janitor was actually disillusioned because he didn’t have the whole story. Da Vinci ended his career with a lot of sadness, not being welcomed in Italy, a lot of embarrassments, some experiments that failed and didn’t work like the painting The Last Supper that chipped off.
So nobody wanted to employ him, he’d kind of ruined relations by working for the Duke of Milan so Florence don’t want anything to do with him.
He didn’t really have a pension fund back then and there was no Allan Gray so he decides to move over to France and the King of France at the time said to him “Da Vinci, you are a genius, I’d love you to come and die with dignity in one of my palaces”.
Him and the King struck up quite a great friendship and right at the end, when Da Vinci dies he says to the King that he can never repay him for his kindness and gives him a gift, and Da Vinci gifts the Mona Lisa to the King of France.
So the Mona Lisa was never raided, it was never stolen, it was a gift for France’s kindness. It was said that the King of France loved the Mona Lisa so much that he had it hanging in his bedroom and that was where she hung for quite a while before she was moved to the Louvre.
Now this janitor wouldn’t know that because he’s never been to art school, so he steals this painting, and this ensues a media frenzy and world wide attention, later he is captured and convicted, and the painting was returned to the Louvre.
Ultimately, it was chance circumstances that made this painting of da Vinci’s as famous as it is today.
Please be on the lookout for our blog on the 2nd most famous artwork, The Last Supper.