Where Is the Monalisa?
The world’s most famous portrait, painted by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) between 1503 and 1506, hangs today in the Louvre in Paris. The Louvre, formerly a palace of the French Kings, is now a museum of art and antiquities which is beyond all valuation. Mona Lisa (also known as La Giocondo or La Joconde) is a 16th-century portrait painted in oil on a poplar panel by Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance in Florence, Italy.
The work is currently owned by the Government of France and is on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris under the title Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The painting is a half-length portrait and depicts a seated woman (Lisa del Giocondo, The Mona Lisa is also called La Giocondo because the sitter’s married name was Giocondo), whose facial expression is frequently described as enigmatic.
The image is so widely recognized, caricatured, and sought out by visitors to the Louvre that it is considered the most famous painting in the world. It has been in France from the day in 1516 when Leonardo left Italy to settle there—except for two occasions. Once, in 1911, the picture was stolen from the Louvre and found two years later in Italy. The second time it left France for 26 days, on a fantastically well-guarded and highly insured visit to the United States as a guest of President John F. Kennedy.
Leonardo da Vinci began painting Lisa when she was 24 and he was 51. She used to come to the great master’s studio in the late afternoon when the light was soft. Over the three years, Leonardo da Vinci became fascinated by his model, and perhaps that was the reason why her husband, Francesco del Giocondo, never received the finished portrait. The artist always made the excuse that he had not quite finished it.
He carried it with him wherever he went—to Milan, to Rome and finally, to France where King Francis I offered the artist a palace in the beautiful Loire valley, the Chateau de Cloux. It is believed that Francis I paid 4,000 gold crowns for the Mona Lisa, but it was not until after Leonardo’s death that the king was able, at last, to possess the painting of the Florentine lady with the enigmatic smile.
Thereafter, it remained in the possession of the kings and emperors of France. The picture hung at Fontainebleau, at Versailles and at the Tuileries Palace, there in 1800 it hung on the wall of Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom! It was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) it was moved from the Louvre to the Brest Arsenal.