Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait painting that has been described as the best known, most visited, and most famous work of art in the world. The painting is on permanent display in the French museum – Louvre since 1797. The Mona Lisa is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at $100 million in 1962, which is worth nearly $820 million today.
10. Who was Mona Lisa?
It is not truly known who exactly was the girl in the famous painting. Most scholars believe that she was 24-year-old Lisa Maria de Gherardini (or Lisa del Giocondo) – an Italian noblewoman from Florence, born in 1479. The portrait was supposedly commissioned by her husband, Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo who was a merchant. She lived a middle-class life and had 5 children. Other theorists say that the woman in the painting matches the looks of Caterina Sforza, the countess of Forli. Another hypothesis suggests that the lady is a mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence, or Isabella d’Este, the marquise of Mantua. Others believe that the woman is a portrait of da Vinci’s mother due to the similarity of the facial structures.
9. The Mona Lisa Smile
One of the most mysterious elements of the painting is Mona Lisa’s enigmatic and intriguing smile. For centuries people have argued if she is happy and smiling or sad. Some experts say that her smile changes depending on the angle and distance of viewing. For example, in a close-up viewing, she looks shy and modest, while from afar she seems to be smiling cheerfully. According to an emotion recognition computer program, Mona Lisa is 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful and 2 percent angry.
8. Secret Codes
Using a microscopic magnification of high-resolution images, experts from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage have found the presence of hidden letters and numbers on the canvas. In Mona Lisa’s right eye the letters “LV” appear, which is theorized to represent the artist’s own name, Leonardo da Vinci. In the left eye, there is something that resembles the letters “CE” or maybe a “B”. The bridge in the background features the number “72” or the letter “L” followed by a “2”. Nobody knows why the artist included these mysterious characters in the painting.
7. The Unknown Bridge
The face and posture of Mona Lisa overshadow the landscape behind her. However, if we look closely we can see that there is a three-arched bridge in the background over her left shoulder. The location of the bridge is also a subject to debate, but some Italian historians believe that it is Ponte Gobbo or Ponte Vecchio in Bobbio – a small village close to Piacenza in northern Italy. The theory suggests that the number 72 refers to the year 1472 when a disastrous flood occurred. The River Trebbia burst its banks and destroyed the bridge of Bobbio.
6. An Unsettling Gaze
It appears that no matter where you move, Mona Lisa keeps staring directly at your eyes. The masterful manipulation of shadows and light on the surface create an optican illusion and a realistic sense of depth. This phenomenon gives Mona Lisa an unsettling gaze that seems to extend beyond the confines of the painting.
5. A Hidden Painting Behind the Portrait
Using infrared and laser imaging on the painting scientists revealed da Vinci’s rudimentary sketches, including a change of position in the index and middle fingers of the left hand. Through this technique, other discoveries were made as well, such as the lace drawn on Mona Lisa’s dress and the blanket on her knees and stomach. In recent years a similar technique was used called the “layer amplification method”. This involves projecting light beams at varying wavelengths onto the painting and measuring the quantities of light reflected back. The scientists discovered a secret portrait underneath Mona Lisa. In fact, four images were found beneath the surface, including a painting of a younger woman with a small face and no smile.
4. Was Mona Lisa Pregnant?
The art historians who think that the woman is Lisa Maria de Gherardini (or Lisa del Giocondo) also believe that she was pregnant when da Vinci painted her. They say that there is historical evidence that suggests that she was pregnant and they also point out her crossed arms over her rounded stomach. Additionally, the supporters of this theory take into account the infrared scans, which indicate that there is some sort of a veil around Mona Lisa’s shoulders. According to them, this is actually a “guarnello” – an over-garment made of linen and worn by a pregnant woman.
3. Is Mona Lisa Beautiful?
While people today can have different opinions, throughout history, the portrait of Mona Lisa was an example of timeless beauty. This may partly be because of her intriguing smile and gaze, but science might provide an explanation as well. Namely, when a rectangle is formed around her face as per the ratio, her chin, the top of her head, and her nose are perfectly aligned. This phenomenon was called the golden ratio as it appears to be aesthetically pleasing to the human eye, producing a sense of natural balance and beauty. Da Vinci himself used the term “divine proportion”.
2. A Stolen Painting
The famous portrait was stolen from Louvre in 1911. For the next two years, the location of the painting remained a complete mystery. Two years later thief revealed himself. Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia had stolen the Mona Lisa by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet, and walking out with it hidden under his coat after the museum had closed. He thought that the painting was stolen from Florence by Napoleon Bonaparte and wanted to return it “home”. He was caught when attempted to sell it to managers of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In fact, this is where the portrait was displayed for around 2 weeks, before it was returned to France in January 1914. Peruggia served six months in prison for the crime and was hailed for his patriotism in Italy. A later account suggested that the well-known art forger Eduardo de Valfierno had been the mastermind of the theft and people began theorizing that the Mona Lisa was stolen for making copies of the painting and selling them to unaware art collectors for vast amounts of money.
1. Was Mona Lisa sick?
Boston physician Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra claims that the reason for her peculiar half-smile and her expression were caused by illness. He said that he noticed her yellowy skin, thinning hair, misaligned smile, her lack of eyebrow hair, a bulge next to her index finger, and a bump on her neck. All of that, according to him was an indicator of an enlarged thyroid gland, so he concluded that Mona Lisa was suffering from a condition called hypothyroidism. Dr. Mehra also investigated the historical conditions surrounding the woman’s diet and discovered that iodine-deficient food was commonly eaten in the early 16th century. As iodine is an essential nutrient with the role of maintaining thyroid health, he claims that this is another proof for his theory. Her odd smile may be caused by muscle weakness and not by amusement after all.