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"The Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci

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Famous Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci

"The Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci. Painted c.1503-19. Oil paint on wood. Size: 30x20" (77x53cm). This famous painting is now in the collection of the Louvre in Paris.

Image © Stuart Gregory / Getty Images
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting, in the Louvre in Paris, is arguably the most famous painting in the world. It is probably also the best known example of sfumato, a painting technique partly responsible for her enigmatic smile.

There's been a lot of speculation about who the woman in the painting was. It's thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant called Francesco del Giocondo. (The 16th-century art writer Vasari was among the first to suggest this, in his Lives of the Artists.) It's also been suggested the reason for her smile was that she was pregnant.

Art historians know Leonardo had begun the Mona Lisa by 1503, as a record of it was made in that year by a senior Florentine official, Agostino Vespucci. When he finished it is less certain. The Louvre originally dated the painting to 1503-06, but discoveries made in 2012 suggest it may have been as much as a decade later before it was finished based on the background being based on a drawing of rocks he is known to have done in n 1510-15.1 The Louvre changed the dates to 1503-19 in March 2012.

You'll have to elbow your way through the crowds to see it "in the flesh" rather than as a reproduction. Is it worthwhile? I'd have to say "probably" rather than "definitely". I was disappointed the first time I saw it as I'd never truly realized just how small a painting it was because I'm used to seeing it poster-sized. It's only 30x20" (77x53cm) in size. You wouldn't even need to spread your arms out all the way to pick it up.

But that said, could you really visit the Louvre and not go to see it at least once? Just patiently work your way towards the front of the admiring horde, then take your time looking at the way the colors have been used. Simply because it's such a familiar painting, doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile spending time with it. It's worth doing with a quality reproduction too, as the more you look the more you see. Just what is in the landscape behind her? Which way are her eyes looking? How did he paint that fabulous drapery? The more you look, the more you see, even though initially it may feel so familiar a painting.

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References:
1. Mona Lisa could have been completed a decade later than thought in The Art Newspaper, by Martin Bailey, 7 March 2012 (accessed 10 March 2012)

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