Monday, May 31, 2010

Mona Lisa: Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo

Mona Lisa (La Gioconda or La Joconde), a sixteen-century portrait painted in oil on a poplar panel in Florence, Italy by Leonardo da Vinci, is owned by the Government of France and is on display at the Louvre museum in Paris under the title Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo.

Described by art-lovers as the most famous and iconic painting in the world, Mona Lisa was in obscurity until the mid-nineteenth century when artists of the Symbolist movement began to appreciate it and associated it with ideas of feminine mystique. Walter Pater, in his 1867 essay expressed this view by describing ‘the figure in the painting as a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity’, who is ‘older than the rocks among which she sits’ and who ‘has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave.’

Leonardo Da Vinci began painting Mona Lisa in 1503, lingered over it four years and left it unfinished. He continued to work on it for three years after he moved to France and finished it shortly before he died in 1519. He took the painting from Italy to France in 1516 when King François I invited him to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. Then, most likely, through the heirs of Leonardo's assistant Salai, the king bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Château Fontainebleau, where it remained until given to Louis XIV, who moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace and returned it later to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.

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