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Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa (also Monna Lisa; Italian: La Gioconda; French: La Joconde), by Leonardo da Vinci, is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, going so far as to be iconic of painting, art, and even visual images in general. No other work of art is so romanticized, celebrated, or reproduced.

The work, which was accomplished between 1503 and 1506, measures 77 x 53 cm and is an oil painting on wood. It was brought to France by Leonardo when King Francois I invited the great painter to work at the Clos LucÚ near the king's chateau in Amboise. As a result, the Mona Lisa today hangs in the Louvre in Paris, and is the museum's star attraction.

The identity of the lady in the painting is not known for certain, except that she was a wealthy Florentine. The most probable suspect is Madonna Lisa del Giocondo.

Although it is definitely difficult to view the painting critically and ignore all the mythology behind it, it does display a technical mastery that more or less unquestionably seats it amongst Leonardo's masterworks (although some count The Last Supper as a greater work).

The compelling nature of the image has been the subject of reams of discussion. In general, it can be stated that the vividness and ambiguity of the facial expression is due to Leonardo's use of sfumato, blurring the most expressive portions of the face (the corners of the eyes and mouth) to give the picture greater mystery. Indeed, the eyes appear to follow the viewer around the room, and the enigmatic smile is the picture's most famous feature (giving us the expression, "a Mona Lisa smile").

The painting was also one of the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape. One interesting feature of the landscape is that it is uneven. The landscape to the left of the figure is noticably lower than that to the right of her. This has led some critics to suggest that it was added later.

The painting has been restored numerous times: unfortunately, several details have been lost in the process, including Lisa's eyebrows and (possibly) a pearl necklace she was wearing.

On August 22, 1911, Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who at first believed the painting belonged to Italy and shouldn't be kept in France, stole the painting by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat. However, greed got the better of him and the Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre in 1913 when Peruggia attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer.

The Guinness Book of Records counts the painting as the most valuable object ever insured.

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