Of The Mona Lisa

Confession I have understood what all the fuss about the Mona Lisa is… 🤡

The Mona Lisa

It is easily the world’s most famous or recognisable painting but when I look at it, I really struggle to see what the big deal is. Makes me think of the Emperor’s New Clothes type of scenario.

If you have watched Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a key part of the script hung around the painting with a leading character declaring “I want to be responsible for something that gets talked about in the same breath as the Mona Lisa. Forever”

Maybe, if I were travel to the Paris Louvre Museum, see this painting for myself, maybe take a selfie with it in frame; perhaps then, I might be more appreciative of the painting. So, what is the story behind the painting?

Mona Lisa all alone in the lourve
during lockdown
Mona Lisa all alone during pandemic lock down 📸 NYT

I did a little digging and here is what I found:

Why is the Monalisa famous?

Mystery of the sitter

Despite the fame, no one knows for certain who the lady in the oil portrait is,  the painting bears no date or signature, nor is the name of the sitter given.

According to Giorgio Vasari, who was one of Leonardo’s first biographers, the lady in the portrait was Lisa Gherardini, second wife of a wealthy silk and wool merchant Francesco del Giocondo who commissioned the painting. This is also how the painting gets its Italian name “La Gioconda

While Leonardo might have been commissioned to do a portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, there is no conclusive evidence that the lady in this particular painting is indeed her. Historians agree that Leonardo may have painted other renditions of the Mona Lisa, so how do we tell which is which, it could be just another Florentine lady or as some historians have argued a feminine self-portrait of Leonardo Davinci.

Enigmatic Expression

Before the 18th century paintings used gestures of the body and hand to convey emotion, a sort of expression through action. Compared to most art of the time, the Mona Lisa is devoid of distractions, thus drawing all attention to the face of the sitter, who depending from the angle of viewing appears to be smiling,

Its been subject of debate whether she is smiling or not, is her expression alluring or aloof? Then there’s the eyes that seem to follow you around.  And where are her eyebrows, has anyone else asked that????? Just me? OK then.


An oil portrait of an alluring lady with an enigmatic expression set in an imaginary landscape with winding paths, undulating valleys and rivers that echo the sensuous curves  of the woman’s hair and clothing. The painting was among the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape while incorporating aerial perspective.

The style of the painting in itself is the most famous example of da Vinci’s signature sfumato method, which blends colors and tones in a soft, shaded way without hard lines or borders (“sfumare” is the Italian word for “shade,” and “fumare” means “smoke”).

The Monalisa Heist

In August 1911 Vincenzo Peruggia an Italian carpenter who had been working at the Louvre at the time went Thomas Crown on the masterpiece. He simply lifted the masterpiece from where it hung, stuck it under his workman’s tunic and just walked out the door of the Louvre. The painting was stolen on a Monday and it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that they realized it was gone, after a visitor asked about it. Clearly, back then it wasnt that much of big deal.

The painting was created in the 1500s and was not particularly noticed until around the 1860s and then overnight with the theft, it became an international sensation. Newspapers worldwide headlined the story. Various conspiracies were issued some claiming the Lourve had staged the robbery, Pablo Picaso was even considered a suspect. During the time, the louvre shut down for a week  and when it reopened – people flocked to see the spot left vacant by the Monalisa.

where the Mona Lisa should have been

 Vincenzo Perugia, was caught when 28 months he tried to sell the painting to Alfredo Geri  an art gallery owner who recognised the artwork and alerted the police. The return of the painting led to a renewed interest in the Mona Lisa .

Viral Reproduction

The Monalisa has gotten reproduced many times over in the media. Some scholars argue that Marcel Duchamp’s playful defacement of a postcard reproduction in 1919 could be what started a trend that would make the painting one of the most-recognized in the world.

Marcel Duchamp played against the worship of art when he drew a beard and mustache on the lady’s face and added the acronym L.H.O.O.Q. (meant to evoke a vulgar phrase in French) at the bottom.

"L H O O Q" (1919) by Marcel Duchamp with Francis Pucabia, published in the magazine 391, No. 12, March 1920. Credit: Marcel Duchamp
“L H O O Q” (1919) by Marcel Duchamp Credit: Marcel Duchamp

For decades after that reproducing the Mona Lisa in various forms be it in parody or realistic forms became a thing which would turn the painting into the most famous art icon even to those not interested in art.

Its become entrenched in our pop culture, its featured in books, movies, music references.  Beyonce and Jay Z have an artsy music video set in the lourve with the Mona Lisa behind them.

Beyonce  and Jay-Z Ape shit with the Mona Lisa

Final thoughts

No single thing has led to it being the most famous painting its sort of a tale of many events and the more we wonder about it the more we keep the mystery burning.

What do you think about the Mona Lisa?




  1. I’ll tell you something about that picture of the Mona Lisa with Beyonce and Jay Z – it’s been retouched. I’ve seen it in person – it’s small and quite dark. I was not particularly impressed. There were many other works in the Louvre that I enjoyed more.


  2. The hubs and I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre last year. It’s been checked off the bucket list, though if I never see it in person again, it’s fine by me. Works of art achieve famed status for lots of reasons, and not always because they are particularly compelling pieces in and of themselves.


  3. I’ve always wondered why the Mona Lisa was so famous, too. It never seemed particularly beautiful to me, so I didn’t understand all the hype. After reading your post, it seems like much of that hype has to do with events surrounding the Mona Lisa, rather than the painting itself.

    But if the Mona Lisa was one of the first portraits with a person in front of an imaginary background, does that mean it featured the first green screen? 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

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