8 Intriguing Facts About the Mona Lisa

Learn more about the history of the enigmatic portrait.

1. It may be unfinished.

Although he began working on the Mona Lisa in the first decade of the 1500s, there is evidence to suggest that Leonardo da Vinci was still refining the painting around 1516 or 1517. Da Vinci’s right hand was partially paralyzed by 1517

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So any finishing touches may have been impossible for him to paint.

A popular piece of evidence used to argue that the Mona Lisa is unfinished is the subject’s lack of eyebrows, though this has been hotly debated.

Some historians argue that not having eyebrows was fashionable for Italian women in the early 1500s.

In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte performed high-resolution scans on the painting and found that Mona Lisa did once have eyebrows, but they had faded, likely as a result of time and shoddy restoration work.

2. It was once believed to be a self-portrait.

Photo: Wikipedia

One of the most enduring mysteries of the Mona Lisa is the identity of its subject.

One particularly interesting theory suggested that the painting is actually a self-portrait of da Vinci himself! Given that the Mona Lisa portrays a woman, that seems unlikely, but bear with us.

If you're shaking your head no, most scholars are in agreement with you.

The identity of the Mona Lisa has been largely put to rest in recent years. It's now believed to depict Lisa del Giocondo

3. It once hung in Napoleon’s bedroom.

Photo: Wikipedia

In 1800, Napoleon had the Mona Lisa moved from the Louvre to the Tuileries Palace. He had the painting hung in his bedroom so he could admire it whenever he wanted, which he did for about four years.

4. It was stolen in 1911.

In late August 1911, a handyman at the Louvre stole the Mona Lisa.

Vincenzo Peruggia was an Italian nationalist who believed the painting should be brought back and displayed in its home country.

It was in his possession for two years, and no one was any the wiser. He was finally caught trying to sell the painting in Florence.

5. Pablo Picasso was one of the suspects in the theft.

Before Peruggia was caught, the manhunt for the Mona Lisa’s thief was immense.

Suspicion soon fell on a group of “art dissidents”, including Pablo Picasso and his friend, art critic Guillaume Apollinaire.

They had been known for their vocal dislike of the kind of art displayed in museums like the Louvre.

Apollinaire had even signed a manifesto that threatened to burn the museum to the ground.

6. It has been attacked multiple times.

After the Mona Lisa was rediscovered in 1913, major steps were taken to ensure its safety, but that did not stop people from trying to damage the famous painting.

1956: A Bolivian tourist threw a rock at it, shattering the protective glass and damaging the painting. You can still see where the pigment was damaged near the subject's left elbow if you look hard enough.

1974: A woman sprayed the protective glass with red paint while the Mona Lisa was on display at the Tokyo National Museum to protest the museum’s failure to provide access to disabled people.

2009: A Russian woman who was upset that she had been denied French citizenship threw a teacup at the painting. Luckily, no damage was done as the teacup simply shattered when it hit the bulletproof glass.

2022: Mona Lisa gets caked by a young man!

7. It came to America at the request of Jackie Kennedy.

Photo: Wikipedia

The Mona Lisa sailed across the Atlantic and arrived in America in 1963.

It was displayed first at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and then at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The very first visitor at the Met to see the Mona Lisa was Ruth Amanuel from Langley Park, Maryland, who had been standing in line since 7:30 that morning.

After her visit, she said it was well worth the wait.

8. It has the highest known insurance valuation in art history.

When the Mona Lisa went on tour in the 1960s, it was given an insurance valuation of $100 million, the equivalent of roughly $870 million today.

The Mona Lisa currently holds the Guinness World Record for the highest insurance valuation for a painting, and it’s hard to imagine another work of art taking her place anytime soon.

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