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10 Intriguing Facts About the Mona Lisa

Updated on July 21, 2015

Who She Was

Each year, millions of people journey to the Louvre to pay homage to Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. Painted somewhere between 1503 and 1507, many believe that it is the portrait a merchant’s wife, Lisa Gherardini Gioconda. Why the portrait was never given to her husband, Francesco del Giocondo, is unknown, but Da Vinci carried the portrait with him for the rest of his life.[Source] After Da Vinci passed away, the portrait was inherited, sold to the King of France, and eventually came into the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte who reportedly fell in love with her. She has been in and out of the Louvre numerous times over the centuries. [Source] She has been stolen, vandalized, and was even hidden during World War II. She has been on tours around the world and, most recently, she has visited the moon.

In spite of over 500 years of existence, the world has not tired over her beauty. Today she is displayed in the Louvre’s Mona Lisa room in the Denon Wing where visitors line up to gaze at her beautiful, timeless smile.

10. Hidden Letters and Numbers

It almost sounds like the plot of a suspense novel (remember The Da Vinci Code?), but it is true. There are hidden numbers and letters within the Mona Lisa painting. Italian researcher, Silvano Vinceti, discovered hidden letters and numbers in the eyes of the Mona Lisa. These tiny images cannot be seen with the naked eye. In fact, they can only be seen in scanned, high definition images. This leads some to believe that these images are merely coincidental, but many believe that Da Vinci may have actually left a code behind as clues to something greater. Long known to have been interested in mysticism, it is not surprising that so many history sleuths are interested in finding the hidden meaning of the Mona Lisa symbols. [Source]

9. According to Some, She Was Never Finished

Da Vinci died before completing the Mona Lisa. Recent evidence shows that Da Vinci may have suffered paralysis on the right side of his body, making mobility difficult. [Source] This may have prevented him from completing the famous painting of the Mona Lisa. On the flip side, Da Vinci was believed to never have actually completed any of his paintings. [Source] Of course, Da Vinci did say that, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

The Mona Lisa

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons | Source

8. Da Vinci Never Signed the Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci never signed or dated the Mona Lisa. This has led art historians to investigate the probable year it was painted, possibly in 1503. [Source] Some believe that the reason why he never signed the painting was because he never finished it. He never sold the painting or handed it over to the person he may have painted it for. Instead, it’s said that he carried the Mona Lisa with him until he died [Source] in 1519. [Source]

7. Earlier Versions Show a Woman in a Bonnet

In 2006, scientists were allowed to take infrared photos of the Mona Lisa. These photos revealed that underneath the famous painting are earlier versions of the Mona Lisa. In the images, the Mona Lisa beneath the paint originally had her hair in a bun and covered with a small bonnet. This type of bonnet was common among women in the 16th century, so it is no surprise that Da Vinci experimented with Mona Lisa wearing the bonnet. That’s not all that is different about the original underpainting. She was originally portrayed with her hands clenched, instead of in the relaxed position we now see them in. [Source]

6. Eyebrows or No Eyebrows

Where are Mona Lisa’s eyebrows? This question has plagued art historians and museum goers for ages. Up until recent years, historians claimed that Mona Lisa had no eyebrows because, during the Italian Renaissance, women would shave off their eyebrows. It was fashionable for women to not have eyebrows or any facial hair. [Source] A recent, 240-million pixel scan of the Mona Lisa tells a different story. French engineer and inventor, Pascal Cotte, discovered a light stroke of an eyebrow hair above Mona Lisa’s left eye. He believes that Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows, but with careless cleaning of the painting, aging, and fading pigments, the eyebrows are no longer on the painting. [Source]

Leonardo Da Vinci

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons. | Source

5. No Notes or Preliminary Sketches Found

Leonardo Da Vinci kept notes and sketchbooks of his inventions, drawings, scientific studies, and personal writings (which he wrote backwards so that the words could only be read with a mirror). In the years after Da Vinci’s death, these books were sold, given away, taken apart, and put back together. Ten of these books, or codices, are in existence today. All of them are owned by museums [Source] except the Codex Leicester that is owned by Bill Gates. [Source] The Mona Lisa is not mentioned in any of these surviving notebooks and no preliminary sketches of her have been found. [Source] In fact, the earliest mention of the Mona Lisa is made by art historian Giorgio Vasari in 1550. In his book, "Le vite de più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori,” [Source] Vasari states, “"For Francesco del Giocondo, Leonardo undertook to paint the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife, but, after loitering over it for four years, he finally left it unfinished.”

4. Vandalism and Suicides

It is hard to imagine why anyone would want to harm historic artwork, especially the Mona Lisa, but it does happen. In August, 2009, a Russian tourist bought a mug at the Louvre’s gift shop and then flung it at the Mona Lisa. Fortunately, the Mona Lisa was protected by her bulletproof encasement, but she has not always been so lucky. In 1956, she suffered two attacks. One person threw acid on her and another person threw a rock at her and damaged her below her left elbow. [Source]

Aside from stirring up feelings of rage, the Mona Lisa has also been blamed for a few suicides. The most notable suicide was that of artist Luc Maspero who threw himself from a fourth floor window of a hotel in Paris. His suicide note read, “For years I have grappled desperately with her smile. I prefer to die.” [Source]

3. She Was Stolen in 1911

On August 21st, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. The event was a media sensation that brought all of France together to find it’s Renaissance treasure. Many people were interviewed and underwent suspicion during this time, including another famous artist, Pablo Picasso. The actual thief wasn’t discovered for two years until a former employee of the Louvre tried to sell the masterpiece to an art dealer in Florence, Italy. The art thief, Vincenzo Perugia, believed that the painting belonged to the people of Italy and he took it upon himself to return it to Italy in return for a “finder’s fee”. Perugia was turned over to the authorities and the Mona Lisa was returned to France. [Source]

2. The Background’s Location was a Mystery

For centuries, historians have tried to find the location of the scenery behind Mona Lisa. The bridge, water, road, and distant mountain range has triggered debates about whether the landscape came from an actual location or if it was simply created from inspiration. The three-arched bridge may provide an answer to all this pondering. Italian art historian, Carla Glori, believes the bridge may have been in Bobbio, a small village in Northern Italy. This bridge was destroyed in a flood in 1472 and, strangely enough, the numbers 7 and 2 can be found in the painting below the bridge. It’s believed that Da Vinci painted the bridge and the numbers so that the background landscape could be identified. [Source]

1. She Went to the Moon

It sounds like NASA has a bit more money to toss around and time to kill than they let on. In 2013, NASA scientists decided to test their laser communication abilities by sending a laser image of the Mona Lisa 240,000 miles to the moon. The test was a success, making Mona Lisa the first woman to visit the moon. [Source]


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 21 months ago from Oklahoma

      Fascinating! I had no idea there was so much to know about this famous painting.

    • KMSplumeau profile image

      KMSplumeau 21 months ago

      Great hub! Voted up, pinned and shared.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 21 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Wow - and to think I saw her with my own eyes during my 1982 European tour! We were all shocked at its size; 20 x 30 INCHES! Tiny but mighty for sure!

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