Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a 16th-century masterpiece, is globally celebrated as one of the most famous artworks. Yet, despite our extensive knowledge of this iconic painting, numerous mysteries still shroud it.
Here, we unveil some intriguing secrets about the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo da Vinci never officially titled his famous artwork as “Mona Lisa.”
The common title “Mona Lisa” likely originated from Vasari’s description of the painting in his 1550 book.
This well-known name lacks any evidence of Leonardo using it himself. The earliest mention of the painting comes from art historian Giorgio Vasari in his book “Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors” in 1550. Vasari referred to it as “the portrayal of Mona Lisa, his life partner,” but “Mona” is a misspelling of “Monna,” an Italian term for a woman of high status.
Leonardo da Vinci never documented the title he intended for the artwork in his own notes, leaving the true name a mystery.
The background of the Mona Lisa painting remains uncertain
Despite the uncertainty surrounding its title and background, the Mona Lisa remains one of the most famous and enigmatic artworks in the world, captivating viewers with its mysterious smile and artistic brilliance.
The background of the Mona Lisa features a landscape with trees, pathways, and distant mountains. However, the exact location depicted remains uncertain. Some argue that the background is a creation of Leonardo’s imagination rather than a representation of a real place. Nonetheless, various theories suggest actual locations, such as the town of Bobbio in northern Italy, which resembles the landscape, or the valley of the River Arno in Tuscany.
Giorgio Vasari depict the Mona Lisa as fragmented
“Mona” is a misinterpretation of “Monna,” an Italian term for a woman of high status, and “Lisa” is believed to refer to Lisa Gherardini, the woman believed to be the subject of the painting.
Giorgio Vasari’s depiction of the Mona Lisa in his work “Lives of the Artists” raises questions about its accuracy when compared to the famous painting we know today. In Vasari’s portrayal, Leonardo da Vinci appears to have left the artwork unfinished. However, the Mona Lisa displayed in the Louvre Museum seems complete, with intricate details in both the scenery and the woman’s image. Some have speculated that any unfinished parts may have been later completed by other artists, leading to its current appearance. It seems unlikely that the French royal court, which acquired the painting, would hinder a renowned artist’s work.
One intriguing aspect of the painting is that it includes the edges of landscape borders on the sides but does not reveal the entire backgrounds themselves. This led to the belief that the painting had been altered or parts of it lost, similar to other famous works like Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.” However, further examination in the 1990s by art historian Frank Zöllner revealed that the original material had not been tampered with, as Leonardo had applied the painting directly to wood, not canvas. The question of why he chose to show only the edges of the backgrounds remains unanswered.
Leonardo da Vinci may have painted more than one version of the iconic portrait
Another mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa is the possibility that Leonardo da Vinci may have painted more than one version of the iconic portrait. It is also known by its Italian name, La Gioconda, meaning “the smiling one.” Historical accounts, such as those by Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, suggest that during the late 16th century, the Mona Lisa and the Gioconda were considered two distinct creations rather than alternative names for the same work.
Evidence supporting the existence of a second version comes from a sketch by the artist Raphael during a visit to Leonardo’s studio, which differs from the Louvre painting and displays two complete backgrounds. Frank Zöllner’s examination in the 1990s suggested that Leonardo might have created a second version that included the full backgrounds. Various other paintings have been proposed as this second Gioconda, such as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, but none have been definitively confirmed to date. The mystery of whether multiple versions exist remains unsolved.
8 Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings
In another story, great art goes beyond just colour and form. It can communicate emotions and ideas, tell stories, and even challenge and confuse. This is why there are several famous paintings with hidden meanings that are not immediately evident.
This means that even today, centuries later, art connoisseurs and critics are still locked in hot debates over the meanings attached to certain pieces of art. But while many theories about the real meaning or possible interpretations have been debunked as mere attention-grabbing speculations, here are eight paintings with secret meanings that will make you go…