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Mona Lisa: Why is it so damn popular?

It can be assumed that whenever you think about paintings as a form of art, one certain figure appears in your head.





And that is ofcourse, the Mona Lisa.


It's crazy to think that over five centuries ago, Leonardo Da Vinci has painted what would be one of the key attractions of one of the most prestigious museums in the history of humanity, protected behind bulletproof glass and multiple security systems.


But talent enough alone and aesthetics, are not enough to make a painting go as "viral" or popular as Mona Lisa has. So the question is,


What made Mona Lisa so damn popular?





Background info:

As mentioned, the Mona Lisa was painted by the well-known polymath, Leonardo da Vinci as a way to gain some money when he did not have a steady financial income. Moreover, rather than getting it done over several sessions, Da Vinci has been carrying Mona Lisa throughout his life and has worked on it until his death in 1519. Furthermore, according to some sources, it is claimed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco Giocondo. And here is where the theories begin.


Subject Theories:

The Mona Lisa's identity is still unknown, regardless of the fact that many scholars and historians have appointed her identity to Lisa, the lack of comission have created two theories;

a) Either Leonardo Da Vinci has never been paid for his masterpiece

b) The inspiration of the Mona Lisa is still unknown.

The identity of the Mona Lisa has been a mystery that bothered a lot of individuals ranging from the people in the 19th century to the recent media outlets.

The Mona Lisa's origin has become something of an urban legend with many conspiracy theories ranging from her being a secret lover of Da Vinci to her being a vampire that is reincarnated (hopefully in a metaphorical way).


If you want to check out Walter Pater's analysis of the Mona Lisa you find it here: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20210211-the-detail-that-unlocks-the-mona-lisa


Consequently, the whole mystery around the mysterious seductress (as she has been named from some) behind the inspiration of Mona Lisa, has boosted the popularity of the painting to new heights.

I guess everyone loves a bit of gossip.


Ahead of its time:

While a number of art snobs today will claim that the Mona Lisa is just a simple portrait just like any other (Lady with an Ermine, Portrait of a Young Girl etc.), the Mona Lisa was revolutionary for the Renaissance era. However, we cannot avoid the hidden brilliance behind the painting.

Firstly, the Mona Lisa was painted on a wooden panel rather than a canvas, something that was the standard at the time. Furthermore, throughout his 10 years of working on the Mona Lisa, he implemented a number of techniques which were powered by a number of groundbreaking optic and light studies.

One of these can be found in the Mona Lisa, in which an "Atmospheric perspective" is created which blurs the background and gives a greater background depth. This is what the "Portrait" function on your smartphone camera usually does.

Furthermore, the brushing techniques used by Leonardo gave Mona Lisa a smile that was confusing viewers all around since her smile always seemed to change depending on the position of the viewer.



The Mona Lisa effect:

One of the biggest mysteries revolving around the Giaconda has to do with her gaze. A very common misconception revolved around the Mona Lisa's eyes and how they seemed to be staring at the viewer of the painting irregardless of their position. This mysterious gaze became so widely publicized that it created what is now known as the "Mona Lisa effect".


Do you know what is the funny thing?


It has been proven that the Mona Lisa effect does not apply to the painting itself. Even though the effect has been proven to be real, a recent study showed that the subject of the painting is staring at 15.4 degrees off to the observer's right, which is outside the borders of what is considered as "looking directly" at the observer.

"The greatest art theft of the 20th century"

By the 20th century, the Mona Lisa had already established some popularity due to many of the reasons above along with the fact that it had become a prestigious piece in high-society due to her previous owners which ranged from King Francis I to Napoleon himself.

However, it was not the household status that we have acquainted with like today.

This all changed in 1911.

On a warm Monday morning in 1911, a man was seen rushing out of the Louvre in a suspicious manner with an item in hand. Nobody would think much about it. However,T that was the day that Mona Lisa's popularity was about to blow.

Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant, was hired for either making protective cases or as glassmaker for the Louvre. According to him, he wanted to steal back the painting that was stolen from Italy in the first place by Napoleon. This patriotic motivation led to him getting in the Louvre on Sunday and hiding in a closet until Monday (which was the day it used to be closed due to cleaning). He then proceeded to lift the painting, wrapped a smock most Louvre workers used to wear and walked towards the door.

Funnily, Peruggia was locked inside and he attempted to unscrew the door's handle unsuccesfully. However, he was in luck. A plumber came to the rescue and unknowingly helped Peruggia escape, by letting him out of the Louvre.



And that was it.

The media went crazy. Newspapers started printing like crazy. Conspiracy theories were created, estimations were formed and generally a media chaos ensued. Some speculations claimed that Mona Lisa's smile drove the thief mad, some used old reviews to hype up the painting and usually gave it the name of "the greatest painting that ever existed" amongst other over-the-top media tactics. People used to go to see the empty position of where the Mona Lisa used to be.


As you may have understood, the media blew this theft out of proportion. For the two years that the Mona Lisa has disappeared, it was like a modern marketing campaign with Mona Lisa as the product promoted. And due to people not having access to the Internet or anything else, they were intrigued to see the Mona Lisa itself.


After two years, the Mona Lisa was acquired back from the Louvre, when Peruggio tried to sell the painting. By then, the Mona Lisa has become a legend in the eyes of the everyday people. Long queues were formed and hours were spent waiting from people all around the world just to see the long-awaited painting.

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