- Melanie Notaras
13 fun facts you might not know about the Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is one of my favourite characters in my book, The Art Show That Came To Life. Here are some fun facts about the most famous painting in the world that you might not yet know!
1. The title of the painting is misspelled, it should be ‘Monna Lisa’. Monna is short in Italian for ‘ma donna’, a polite form of address that translates into English as ‘My Lady’ – so the painting should really be called ‘My Lady Lisa’!
2. Mona Lisa was painted on a flat piece of wood measuring 77cmx53cm (30in x20in) in Florence, Italy – maybe up to 3 times! Experts argue that x-rays reveal 3 variations of her position underneath the painting.
3. The background view is fake! She was actually painted in the dining hall of the Monastery of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence. The portrait’s background view showing rivers and bridges was made up by Leonardo da Vinci based on two years’ previous travel in the region.
4. Lisa Antonio Maria de Noldo Gheradini is the likely model for the painting, about 23-26 years of age when she posed (sources vary). Her husband, the wealthy silk merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo di Lanobi del Giacondo, commissioned the piece of art to hang in their home and to celebrate the birth of their second son Andrea – but he never received it.
5. Leonardo da Vinci kept the painting when he moved to France to live under the patronage of King Francis I – where King Francis eventually hung it in his bathroom (in the Versailles Palace)! Later, Napoleon was said to have hung it in his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace.
6. To make sure his model was happy while she posed, it’s rumoured that Leonardo da Vinci surrounded her with musicians, singers and clowns while he painted.
7. Why does her skin appear to glow? It’s the afternoon light shining on it. She is the bright, golden, beautiful 'sun' against the falling shadow or night in the background.
8. The painting is thought by some to be a metaphor for Leonardo da Vinci himself – that in his genius and enterprise, he is the radiant sun, the fullness of life; and everything else surrounding him (society, culture, intelligence) pales by comparison into darkness.
9. The brushes that da Vinci used were so fine, that even if you examine it closely, you can’t see a single brushstroke. And x-rays show there are 40 layers of paint on her face, creating that soft smoothness. Look closely and you’ll also see something else – no outlines.
10. But where are the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows? They were never painted – because she didn’t have them. Fashionable ladies of that era plucked them right off!
11. Mona Lisa’s face appears again in the Leonardo da Vinci’s 1510 painting “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”. Check out the face of Saint Anne (the top-most face in the adjacent picture) - it's a very close match!
12. The Mona Lisa portrait was not world famous until it was stolen from the Louvre Museum on 21 August 1911, by Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia. He hid in a broom cupboard during opening hours; when the museum closed he walked out of the broom cupboard, took the painting off the wall, and walked out with it under his coat. Two years later, it was discovered and returned.
13. During the time Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa (1503-1507) , he was also involved in large city engineering works to change the course of the Arno, Florence’s river.
Leonardo da Vinci never considered that he finished the painting, and some experts argue that he worked on it now and then up until his death in 1519. Is it finished? What would you change?
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