Want to learn more about Mona Lisa? From its history to intriguing myths? Here are the most interesting facts about Mona Lisa you should know.
Did you know that there is one woman who’s probably more famous than all the celebrities in the world combined? (Well, at least in the art world)! That’s right, I am talking about the world-renowned Mona Lisa painting.
Her beauty has captured and broken the hearts of many people around the world and her enigmatic smile is still a hotly debated topic today.
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Mona Lisa is not only one of the most fascinating paintings in the Louvre Museum in Paris but also the entire world at large.
But did you know there’s more to this painting than meets the eyes? Complete with a full-blown heist, the history of the Mona Lisa is full of intriguing facts many people may not know.
Curious? Read on to find out 24 interesting facts about Mona Lisa.
You may also enjoy these Facts:
- Fun facts about Paris
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How to See The Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum
Before we look at the fun Mona Lisa facts, if you’re visiting Paris soon, here is how you can see the famous painting in the Louvre.
- Book a self-guided visit to the Louvre Museum: You can visit on your own but since the Louvre is always crowded, you’ll want to buy this skip-the-line ticket to avoid the long lines. You’ll also get an audio guide with this ticket. >>> Click here to purchase your Louvre museum skip-the-line entry ticket <<<
- Join a Louvre Museum guided tour: If you’re like me and want to learn as much as you can about the place, your best bet is to book this Louvre museum guided tour. The friendly and knowledgeable tour guide will direct you to Mona Lisa, give you all the information you need to know and show you all the must-visit artwork in the museum while giving all the history about them. >>> Click here to book your Louvre Museum guided tour <<<
- Purchase a Paris Museum Pass or Paris pass: If you’re spending a number of days in Paris and plan to visit several Parisian landmarks, I’d recommend either purchasing this Paris Pass or this Paris museum pass. The passes not only give you free access to the Louvre but to over 60 more attractions too. With either pass, you’ll save money, and time by skipping long lines. Depending on what’s best for you, you can either buy the Paris Museum Pass or the Paris Pass. But if you’re not sure if they’re right for you, then you can first read my Paris museum pass review to decide if it’s worth it. >>> Click here to purchase a Paris Museum Pass <<<
Interesting Facts About Mona Lisa
Whether you’re planning to visit Paris and want to know more about this iconic painting before your visit or you just want to increase your knowledge about it, here are the fun facts about the Mona Lisa painting that will fascinate you!
The subject of the Mona Lisa has always been a topic of contention. Some have claimed it’s a painting of Constanza d’Avalos, Beatrice d’Este, or even Isabella of Aragon.
However, one of the most interesting theories suggested is that Mona Lisa may have been a self-portrait!
That’s right! Some people believed that Leonardo da Vinci (the painter of this piece) may have depicted himself with feminine features in this painting.
If you think that this is an outlandish claim, you’re not alone! Most scholars reject this theory, and that is because… the real subject of the painting has been identified!
Yes, the real subject of the painting has been identified! In 2005, scholars found a note revealing the mysterious lady’s identity in an old book’s margins.
Her name was Lisa del Giocondo, (Lisa Gherardini), and lived from June 15, 1479, to July 15, 1542). She came from a line of a wealthy family in the city of Florence.
Her husband, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned the painting. This wealthy silk merchant commissioned it to celebrate their new home and the birth of their second son, Andrea del Giocondo.
If you think that Mona Lisa was painted on canvas like many other paintings, you’re sorely mistaken!
This masterpiece was actually painted on a poplar plank. However, this wasn’t uncommon for Renaissance artworks.
Even though canvas was already used since the 14th century, many Renaissance artists were accustomed to using wood planks as mediums, so, it’s no surprise that da Vinci used a plank to create this masterpiece.
4. Mona Lisa May Be Unfinished
Considering its status as a masterpiece, you’d be surprised to find out that Mona Lisa may be an unfinished painting.
It’s said that da Vinci’s right hand became partially paralyzed in 1517 before he could finish the Mona Lisa.
The lady’s lack of eyebrows is ample evidence for this theory, at least to some scholars.
However, some historians say that the no-eyebrow look was fashionable in the early 1500s, and others say da Vinci just never got around to painting Mona Lisa’s eyebrows.
5. The Painting Has Lived with Several French Monarchs
One of the other fun facts about Mona Lisa is that the painting has lived with several monarchs, including King Francis I, King Louis XIV, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
After da Vinci died, Mona Lisa was sold to King Francis I for 4,000 gold ducats by the painter’s favorite student and assistant, Salaì in 1518.
The king then displayed it in the Palace of Fontainebleau. Later, King Louis XIV moved the Mona Lisa to the Grand Palace of Versailles, and then in 1800, the Mona Lisa came into the possession of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Considering Mona Lisa’s massive influence on the world’s culture, you’d be forgiven for thinking it has a huge size.
This may sound disappointing, but this oil-on-wood painting only measures 77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in).
Actually, many people who see it for the first time without knowing its size are usually disappointed as they expected something very big.
However, Mona Lisa is quite heavy despite its surprisingly small dimension. It weighs no less than 8.1 kg (18 lbs), thanks to its wood medium and uncountable paint layers.
7. It’s Kept in a Bulletproof Glass
Back in the 1950s, a museum visitor poured acid on the Mona Lisa, and to keep the masterpiece safe, it was put behind transparent glass.
Then, after a $6.3 million renovation in 2003, the management kept the Mona Lisa in one of the museum’s largest rooms. However, it’s not the only painting in this room. The largest painting in the Louvre, The Wedding at Cana is also in this same room.
They also amped up the security measures by keeping it behind a bulletproof glass case and adding barricades to prevent visitors from getting too close to it.
8. The Mona Lisa Cannot Be Bought Nor Sold
Ever wondered why private collectors haven’t bought the Mona Lisa yet? Surely some rich billionaire would love to get their hands on such a wonderful painting, right?
Well, it’s not like nobody wants to have her. It’s just that Mona Lisa cannot be bought nor sold according to the French Heritage law.
As part of the Louvre collection, the Mona Lisa belongs to the public as much as it belongs to the French government.
Its final appraisal deems the Mona Lisa priceless, and the French government will not accept any money in exchange for the painting.
9. A Heist Helped Cement Its “Masterpiece” Status
Even though the Mona Lisa has always been popular in the art sphere, it hasn’t always been world-famous, but everything changed in the summer of 1911 when the painting was stolen.
Thanks to massive reporting by the media, the Mona Lisa became a worldwide news sensation overnight.
Even those who barely had any interest in art followed the story of the masterpiece’s disappearance.
Gossips about the heist also surfaced, further cementing the Mona Lisa’s status as a household name. Even Pablo Picasso was once accused of stealing the painting!
And when Mona Lisa was returned, everyone instantly flocked to the Louvre to see the famed da Vinci masterpiece.
The heist made Mona Lisa so popular that the public mourned when she was gone.
After the painting was stolen, thousands immediately came to the Louvre Museum to stare at the blank wall where it once hung. People also left countless notes, flowers, and other mementos to honor the missing painting.
Later, the New York Times would compare this public display of grief to the one seen after Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
11. Painter Pablo Picasso Was a Prime Suspect in This Theft
One of the interesting Mona Lisa facts is that Pablo Picasso who was a famous painter at the time was initially accused of stealing the painting.
In fact, he was the prime suspect and was taken in front of a judge together with his then friend and French writer, Guillaume Apollinaire.
How did all this come to be? Well, Guillaume Apollinaire’s former secretary, Honore-Joseph Géry Pieret testified that he had previously stolen some art pieces from the Louvre and sold them to his “friends” and those friends happen to be Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire.
Of course, it didn’t seem far-fetched that the people who had initially bought stolen art from the Louvre could possibly also have the Mona Lisa and that’s why they were prime suspects.
Two years later, the thief, an Italian handyman was finally caught.
12. Vincenzo Peruggia Was the Real Thief of Mona Lisa
Though Picasso was a suspect, the real culprit was a handy Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia. How did he steal the famous French painting?
First, you’ll need to know that Peruggia was an employee of the Louvre and had worked on the glass case of the painting.
But on that fateful day, he decided to stay behind and hid in a closet. He hid the painting under his clothes and the following morning when the museum opened, he simply walked out with the painting.
For the first 24 hours, no one noticed that it was stolen and since paintings used to move around a lot, some people thought that the painting had been taken out either for cleaning or to be photographed until they realized that it was actually just stolen.
The Louvre was closed for some time to conduct investigations but with no luck. Fast forward 2 years later, it was found when Vincenzo Peruggia tried to sell it to Giovanni Poggi, a museum curator. The painting was then safely brought back to the Louvre.
13. Mona Lisa Has Survived Multiple Attacks
Despite being a priceless masterpiece, not everyone is a fan of Mona Lisa. Aside from the heist, Mona Lisa has also survived multiple attacks.
The first incident was when a man who claimed to be in love with Mona Lisa cut it with a razor blade. This forced management to add a glass case to protect it.
A few years later in December 1956, a Bolivian Ugo Ungaza Villegas threw a rock at the painting, causing its glass case to break. This incident forever marked the painting after a piece of shattered glass hit it.
The painting was also sprayed with red paint in 1974 while on display at Tokyo National Museum and had a teacup thrown towards it in 2009 at the Louvre.
The latest attack against Mona Lisa happened in May 2022 when a man disguised as an old lady in a wheelchair smeared cream cake across the painting’s display case.
The perpetrator also tried to smash the glass case while telling people to care more about the deterioration of planet Earth.
Luckily, none of these attacks substantially damaged the painting!
14. It Has the Highest Insurance Valuation in the Art Sphere
One of the interesting Mona Lisa painting facts is that it is the most expensive painting in the world.
Considering its value and how often it has been attacked, it is no surprise that Mona Lisa has the highest insurance valuation in the art sphere.
Back in 1962, Mona Lisa was assessed at US$100 million, a ridiculously huge amount of money even today.
When you take inflation into account, that value amounts to around US$870 million as of 2021, making it essentially priceless.
15. The Painting Was Transferred Multiple Times to Prevent the Nazis from Stealing It
During WWII, the Nazis had a reputation for stealing any artwork they came across. The Nazi art theft division, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) even plundered the Louvre.
Fortunately, the Mona Lisa and thousands of other artworks had been evacuated to safety at the time.
The painting was smuggled out of the museum in a poplar case lined and transported in an ambulance.
The Mona Lisa had to be moved several times until the war in Europe was finally over. Then, the masterpiece eventually returned to its rightful place in the Louvre on June 16, 1945.
16. Mona Lisa Has Only Been Exhibited in Three Countries Outside of France
The French government rarely ever let this masterpiece out of their sight. Aside from France, the Mona Lisa has only been exhibited in three countries.
First, the painting was displayed in the United States in 1963 to satisfy the first lady Jackie Kennedy’s request.
Mrs. Kennedy had traveled to Paris with President Kennedy of the US when she fell in love with this masterpiece.
She requested then French minister of culture if she could borrow the Mona Lisa and take her to the USA so that her people could also have a glance at this beauty.
Though hesitant at first, her request was approved and Mona Lisa made her way to America receiving millions of visitors when displaced both at the National Gallery in Washington. DC and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mona Lisa also visited Japan and the Soviet Union in 1974.
17. It’s one of the Most Copied Paintings of All Time
Today, the Mona Lisa is one of the most copied paintings. Da Vinci’s students and artists of the past seem to have a penchant for copying the lady as a way to hone their techniques.
Some exceptionally good replicas are even displayed in museums across the world, such as the one in Madrid’s Prado Museum, which is believed to be the most prominent of copies.
18. Mona Lisa Receives Plenty of Love Letters
One of the other interesting facts about Mona Lisa is that she gets lots of love letters.
Since it was put on display at the Louvre in 1797, the Mona Lisa has charmed countless people. Each day, entranced suitors would come bringing flowers and love letters for her.
Due to the large number of love letters Mona Lisa receives, a mailbox specifically for her was put in place at the Louvre museum.
19. Mona Lisa Has Broken Lots of Hearts
Keeping in mind how many people are in love with her, it’s no surprise that Mona Lisa has also broken many hearts. However, most people don’t expect the painting to have driven an enamored fan to death.
That’s right, the Mona Lisa has been the reason for at least one suic*de case. In the 19th century, an aspiring artist called Luc Maspero fell desperately in love after seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time. This love soon became a deathly obsession that reached its climax in 1852.
That year, Maspero jumped from the fourth floor of a Parisian hotel. Investigators found his short yet chilling suic*de note that read, “For years, I have grappled desperately with her smile. I prefer to die.”
20. Napoleon Was Also Obsessed with the Mona Lisa
Even Napoleon Bonaparte himself was not immune to the charms of the Mona Lisa.
The emperor was so captivated by “Madame Lisa” that he had it adorn the wall of his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace.
But that’s not all. Later, Napoleon became infatuated with a beautiful Italian woman who was said to resemble the Mona Lisa. Her name was Teresa Guadagni, but the emperor referred to her as “la belle Italienne.”
A fascinating part of this tale is that Teresa Guadagni was a descendant of Lisa Gherardini, the real subject of the Mona Lisa.
21. There’s a Secret Behind the Lady’s Enigmatic Smile
There is no doubt that one of the facts about Mona Lisa that makes her very popular is her mysterious smile.
Yes, Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile has also been a subject of fascination! People were perplexed why her smile seemed to appear and disappear at times.
Professor Margaret Livingstone of Harvard University has the answer.
Human eyes have two ways to process visual information, foveal and peripheral. The painting’s smile is in low spatial frequencies, so it can’t be fully picked up by foveal vision but remains visible through peripheral vision.
That’s why the smile disappears when you look directly at the painting and appear when you look away. You can read more about that here.
22. Mona Lisa May Be the World’s First 3D Image
Research suggests that da Vinci may have made the Mona Lisa the world’s first 3D image. But how?
It’s no secret that there are countless “knock-off” paintings of the Mona Lisa. In 2012, researchers discovered one of them beneath layers of black paint in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
This “knock-off” was unique because it was very similar to the original, except for a little shift in perspective. Research also suggested that the copy was likely painted by da Vinci himself or his student, and probably at the same time, in the same studio.
When both paintings are observed closely together, they would create a stereoscopic image. In other words, the picture would appear to be 3D, jumping out at the viewer.
23. The Lady’s Eyebrows Have Been a Matter of Debate
Have you ever wondered why the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows? Well, so do countless art historians and researchers!
Some insisted that the lack of eyebrows reflected the high-class fashion trend at the time of the painting’s creation. Others state that it’s proof that the masterpiece was an unfinished work as we saw earlier in this article.
But in 2007, digital scans of the painting suggest that the lady once had eyebrows and bolder lashes and perhaps her eyebrows may have just faded over time.
24. The Mona Lisa Is the Most Famous Painting in the World Today
To wind up this list of Mona Lisa facts, here is another fact that you may or may not have heard about.
Today, the Mona Lisa is considered to be the most famous painting in the world. The Mona Lisa has been the subject of countless discussions and every form of media you can think of, from books to blockbuster movies.
Even people who are not interested in art will be able to recognize it with just a single glance.
Each year, over 10 million people flock to the Louvre, and probably 80% of them are mainly interested in seeing da Vinci’s masterpiece.
In high seasons, visitors would have to wait hours on end just to get a glimpse at the Mona Lisa. In fact, most visitors are only allowed to see the lady for 30 seconds to give room for others.
Final Thoughts on The Interesting Facts About Mona Lisa
And there you have it, 22 fun facts about Mona Lisa. Did any of them surprise you? Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.
Even centuries after Leonardo da Vinci painted it, the Mona Lisa still manages to capture the hearts of everyone worldwide.
But despite all that attention, some information about Mona Lisa remains a mystery. And perhaps that’s what makes the painting so unique and interesting.
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