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Spotlight On: The Mona Lisa

  • 2 min read

Its 100 years since the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris so we thought we would take a closer look at the painting that has made such a huge impression on the public and artists over the years.

On 21 August 1911 Louis Béroud, a painter, walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display and discovered it was missing. The gallery was closed for a week as the investigation got under way and even Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning over the disappearance of the painting.

It was two years before the painting was recovered and the thief a Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia was uncovered. He had hidden in a broom cupboard while the museum was open and then taken the painting after hours hidden it in his coat and, after being let out by a plumber working there walked out. Peruggia was Italian and was motivated by the belief the painting should be on show in Italy rather than France. He was caught when he tried to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. As a result of the theft the painting did go on a tour of Italy before being returned to the Louvre in 1913.

Over the years the painting has survived various other attacks including being doused with acid having a rock thrown at it, having paint thrown at it on a visit to Tokyo and having a mug thrown at it. Fortunately during the last two of these attacks the painting was behind its new bullet proof glass and was unharmed.

Due to its iconic status the image of the Mona Lisa has also been used by other artists. Surrealist Marcel Duchamp was one of the first to use the image and adorned a cheap reproduction with a moustache and a goatee. After the Mona Lisa’s visit to America in 1963 Andy Warhol created a series of silkscreen reproductions of her similar to his works with other iconic images such as the Campbell’s soup can and Marilyn Monroe. In more recent years graffiti artists such as Banksy, RYCA, Dolk and Mr Brainwash have all used the Mona Lisa in their woks both on the street and as limited editions.

Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa around 1503 in Florence, Italy and continued to working on it over the years and is thought to have finished it in 1519 shortly before his death. Leonardo bought the painting to France when he went there at the invitation of King François I in 1516. After Leonardo’s death the King bought the painting and it has remained in France ever since.

Mona Lisa was not well known until the mid-19th century when the emerging Symbolist art movement began to appreciate it, and associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique. Since then her enigmatic smile has held the public’s imagination captive and it is now perhaps the most famous painting in the world.

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