poplar wood measuring 77 x 53 cm.
Although it is difficult to view the painting critically and ignore all the mythology behind it, it does display a technical mastery that seats it amongst Leonardo's masterworks (although some count The Last Supper as a greater work).
The compelling nature of the Mona Lisa has been the subject of reams of discussion. In general, it can be stated that the vividness and ambiguity of the facial expression is due to Leonardo's use of sfumato, blurring the most expressive portions of the face (the corners of the eyes and mouth) to give the picture greater mystery. The enigmatic 'smile' is the picture's most famous feature (giving us the expression, "a Mona Lisa smile").
Sigmund Freud interpreted the 'smile' as signifying Leonardo's erotic attraction to his dear mother. Others have described it as both innocent and inviting.
The identity of the lady in the painting is not known for certain. The most probable suspect is the wealthy Florentine Madonna Lisa del Giocondo, giving rise to the painting's name in Italian and French. However it is also possible that Leonardo did not portrait a specific person.
The Mona Lisa was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape. One interesting feature of the landscape is that it is uneven. The landscape to the left of the figure is noticably lower than that to the right of her. This has led some critics to suggest that it was added later.
The painting has been restored numerous times; x-ray examinations have shown that there are three versions of the Mona Lisa hidden under the present one.
Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produced modifications and carricatures, for instance by drawing a moustache in the woman's face. The painting was reproduced as posters by Andy Warhol.
The Guinness Book of Records counts the Mona Lisa as the most valuable object ever insured.
The painting was brought from Italy to France by Leonardo in 1516 when King Francois I invited the great painter to work at the Amboise. The king then bought the painting.
The painting first resided in Fontainebleau, later in Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon Bonaparte had it moved to his bedroom; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.
On August 22, 1911, the theft of the Mona Lisa was discovered. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of theft on September 7 and Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, believing that the painting belonged to Italy and shouldn't be kept in France, stole it by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat. However, greed got the better of him and the Mona Lisa was recovered when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913.
During World War I and World War II the painting was again removed from the Louvre and stored at a safe place.
In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged after an acid attack. Several months later someone threw a stone at it. It is now being kept under security glass.
In 1962, the painting was loaned to the United States and shown in New York City and Washington D.C. In 1974 it went on a tour and was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow.