Explained: Mona Lisa – widely loved, frequently attacked

Arguably the most recognized painting in the world, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, was smeared with cake by a climate activist dressed as an elderly woman on Sunday. The Renaissance artwork, which is protected by bulletproof glass, was not damaged.

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The painting

Considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, it is said to have been painted between 1503 and 1517.

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Dressed in Florentine fashion, the bust portrait features a seated figure against a mountainous landscape painted in the sfumato technique, where there is a play of light and shadow and the colors blend into each other without obvious borders.

While one proposal offered is that a man and woman were modeled for the portrait, another set believe it to be a disguised self-portrait of its Italian polymath creator.

However, the subject of the painting is generally believed to be Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant from Florence. Historians believe Francesco commissioned the painting for their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea.

It has been the subject of many studies. While some admire the work for the way Leonardo da Vinci applied his study of human anatomy when designing it, Mona Lisa’s enigmatic expression, which appears both seductive and aloof, has intrigued viewers for centuries. centuries.

The masterpiece, which has several copies around the world, also has a twin. Discovered in 2012, the much brighter version in the Museo del Prado in Madrid is said to have been painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s main assistants, Melzi or Salai, at the same time as the master. Using infrared technology, the restorers would have discovered that Leonardo and the replica painter had made the exact same changes to their works at the same time.


Although da Vinci began working on the portrait when he was based in Florence, he continued to add detail to it for years, taking it with him to France in 1517, when he traveled there to the invitation of King Francis I. Upon his death in Amboise, France, da Vinci’s assistant Salai, who is believed to have inherited the work, sold the painting to King Francis I of France. It was kept at the Château de Fontainebleau until Louis XIV transferred it to the Château de Versailles.

After the French Revolution, it is also said to have hung in Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom in the Tuileries Palace for a time.
Property of the French Republic, the work which has always been acclaimed in the art world, catapulted to public fame when it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. It was the work of the man Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia, who had been hired to design a glass case for the job. After a successful theft, he managed to keep it hidden in his apartment for two years, only to be caught trying to contact an Italian dealer, who alerted Giovanni Poggi, then director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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Past attacks

The Mona Lisa has been attacked several times in the past.

In 1956, a vandal threw acid on the painting and damaged it while it was on display in Montauban, France. That same year, in December, a South American tourist threw a stone at him at the Louvre, shattering the glass and chipping the paint a bit. The painting was later restored.

In 1974, when the work was on display at the National Museum in Tokyo, a disabled woman sprayed red paint on its display case to show her displeasure with the lack of access for disabled people in the museum.

Denied French nationality, a Russian woman threw a cup of coffee at the painting in August 2009, but fortunately it did not cause any damage to the work.