This article was originally published in The Italian Tribune:
The Mona Lisa is quite possibly the most well-known piece of painted artwork in the entire world. It was painted by the Leonardo da Vinci in the early 16th century and was commissioned by Francesco Del Giocondo. The subject of the painting is his wife, Lisa, who was born to a well-known family from Tuscany. Her husband was a very wealthy silk merchant. The work was commissioned to celebrate the completion of their home and the birth of their second son. It was only in 2005 that the identity of Mona Lisa‘s subject was finally agreed upon by historians.
The painting well may be the most studied piece of artwork ever known. The subject’s facial expression has been a source of debate for centuries, as her face remains largely enigmatic in the portrait. Leonardo used a shadowing technique at the corners of her lips as well as the corners of her eyes which gives her an extremely lifelike appearance and look of amusement. Her portrait is such that to an observer, they are standing right before Lisa Del Giocondo, with the arms of her chair as the barrier between the observer and the subject of the painting.
da Vinci also created a background with aerial views and a beautiful landscape, but muted from the vibrant lightness of the subject’s face and hands. The technique he used in executing the painting left behind no visible brush marks. The size of the painting is only 20.87 inches wide by 30.32 inch high. It is truly a masterpiece.
Originally commissioned in Italy, it is now at home in the French Republic and hangs on display in the Louvre in Paris. Many people have asked the question – how did one of the most famous Italian works of art end up in Paris?
da Vinci began the painting in 1503 and the majority of the work on the painting continued until 1507. However, the painting never ended up in the Del Giocondo family’s home. The Mona Lisa was da Vinci’s favorite painting and he continued to add details here and there for the rest of his life. In 1517, da Vinci went to France at the King’s invitation and took the painting with him. He continued to work on the painting while in France. Upon his death on May 2, 1519, in Amboise, France, the artist’s assistant Salaì inherited the work and sold it to France’s King Francis I for 4,000 gold coins. It was kept it at the Palace at Fontainebleau, where it remained until King Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. Following the French Revolution it was moved to the Louvre.
The Return to Italy – the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre Museum in 1911. Believe it or not, Pablo Picasso was on the original list of suspects questioned for the theft. For two years, the masterpiece was thought to be forever lost. However, in 1913, Vincenzo Perugia was arrested for stealing the famous painting and the original artwork returned to its home at the Louvre. Perugia had been an employee of the Louvre at the time of the theft and he believed the painting belonged to Italy. For two years he kept the famous piece of art housed in his apartment, but was discovered when he tried to sell the painting for $100,000 to a gallery in Florence, Italy.
For many years the Italian government has tried through diplomatic channels to have the masterpiece returned to Italy. Following the release of the movie The Monuments Men two years ago, George Clooney raised the banner to have the Mona Lisa returned to Italy. Thus far unsuccessful, the French government’s official position is that the painting is “too fragile” to be moved.