Mona Lisa 1503-1519

Overhyped, teenage mom, overrated smile, America, Machiavelli, helicopters, Tom Hanks' bad hair day.

Audio Guide# 422 (in French: la Joconde)

by Leonardo DA VINCI (Vinci, 1452 - Amboise, 1519)

Italian painting

Denon wing1st floor, Mona Lisa room, Room 6
See adjacent text.
I ate some beans and soon you'll know what it means!"

Micro guide: Mona Lisa is famous for being famous, no one gets why. Except experts, who say it was highly groundbreaking: glowing skin, fuzzy eye & mouth corners (sfumato techniquethat give her an enigmatic smile and eyes that creepily follow you around the room, amazingly realistic landscape that fades away into the background, her statue-like three-quarter position. Plus, ages ago, poets thought she was a hottie. And because da Vinci was a genius painter and inventor.

Mini guide: This is the world’s greatest  most famous painting, worth $760 million (but  - visitors look at it for only 15 seconds before moving on, saying "Well, that's done; next on my bucket list: the Taj Mahal!" Why??? Because it's behind thick glass in an overcrowded room? Yes... but Why the fuss? Mainly because it's  Mona Lisa is famous for being famous, like Paris Hilton, and no one gets why but experts. In the 19th century some poets started idolizing her as a femme fatale, a hottie, and the hype grew. In reality, she was a teenage mom whose husband commissioned the portrait that Leonardo neither finished nor was paid for. But the crazy hype really took off after it was briefly stolen by a crazy Italian in 1911. Her face appeared on every newspaper and a nationwide search was conducted. Even shifty-eyed Picasso was questioned (both his eyes had crazily shifted to one side of his nose). After that, she ruled alone. she went viral and now is the most recognizable painting in the world.

Mona Lisa's real greatness -- like Citizen Kane's in filmmaking -- is in its many, many firsts: she's almost life-sized and her skin glows like she's using expensive cream. The corners of her eyes and mouth are fuzzy, called  the sfumato technique (Italian: smoky), thus  which creates the effect of the famous enigmatic smile and eyes that creepily follow you around the room. All never done before. Also, she's in a three-quarter (midway) view, like a statue and also within a "pyramid" (artists LOVE these) , set against a beautiful, complex landscape (the usual was much simpler) with atmospheric illusion, a haziness in the distance that creates depth. All new. Wow, Leo, way to go! It's  She is a great example of  of the  Italian Renaissance period movement that revived classical Greek and Roman art and ideals. BTW, Leo was a genius and had many ideas for inventions, such as the helicopter


Mona Lisa is well conserved. It's painted on a wood panel, so braces and climate control keep it flat. Chemicals keep the colors fresh. But her eyebrows and eyelashes faded away over time... or did she pluck 'em? Experts really argue about this. The Mona Lisa is also behind bulletproof glass because a rock, paint, acid, even a teacup have been thrown at it. What would YOU throw?

Fun stuff:

Some Fun Facts. Lisa had the first of her 5 kids when she was 16. She was the third wife of Francesco, who commissioned the painting. Leo moved to France at the end of his life and King Francis I acquired the Mona Lisa and now it belongs to France. She was identified as the model by Agostino Vespucci, whose boss was Machiavelli (yes, that Machiavelli) and whose cousin, Amerigo, is what America is named after. Not Columbus because he thought that he'd reached India. Oops. No chutney for him!

Some Funner facts.  The Mona Lisa is the most parodied artwork in the world; here are some on youtube and pinterest.  An important modern artist, Marcel Duchamp, too modern for the Louvre, created a parody titled L.H.O.O.Q. which sounds like "she has a hot ass" in French. Pardon my French.





An Unfun Fact. In the bad movie, The da Vinci Code, bad haircut Tom Hanks with a bad haircut runs around Paris with Audrey Tatou (Amélie fame) solving some  mystery puzzle centered on the Louvre that involves the Mona Lisa. Leo should have thrown teacups at them from the helicopter he invented (yes he did). What would YOU throw?

* Stuff we made up: She didn't eat beans! She had a 4-cheese pizza and she's lactose intolerant.

References: Wikipedia, Louvre