Mona Lisa

Artist's Model

Born: 1503
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Best known as:

Famous portrait by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa is a famous 16th-century portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa's mysterious smile has beguiled generations of viewers, but the true identity of the woman pictured in the portrait remains unknown, despite intensive research by art historians. Many believe the Mona Lisa to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. (Thus the Mona Lisa is known in Italy as La Gioconda.) Others have suggested the subject was a mistress of da Vinci, or even a self-portrait, with da Vinci imagining himself as a woman. It is known that Leonardo began the portrait in Florence in 1503, continued work on it through 1506, and then kept the painting until his death in 1519. Over the next three centuries the Mona Lisa passed through many hands, even hanging for a time in the bedroom of Napoleon, but since 1804 its home has been the Louvre Museum in Paris. Leonardo's painting is famous among artists for its innovative techniques, including sfumato (shown in the painting's distinctive hazy, soft-focus effect) and chiaroscuro (use of light and shadow).

Extra credit:

The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, but recovered in Italy in 1913... Some believe that the name La Gioconda is a play on "the merry woman," a reference to her smile. In France, the Mona Lisa is called La Joconde... The popular tune Mona Lisa calls her "the lady with the mystic smile." The song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the 1950 movie Captain Carey, USA; it won an Oscar as the year's best song and was also a hit for Nat King Cole.

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