An early 16th century oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Mona Lisa is believed to have been created between 1503-1507 in Florence (though it is rumored that da Vinci did not actually complete it until 1519, just before his death in France). The painting is probably inspired by Lisa Gherardini, the wife of an Italian merchant. In 2005, a scholar at the University of Heidelberg, Dr. Armin Schlechter, discovered a manuscript containing a marginal note written by a Florentine chancellery official, Agostino Vespucci, which mentions Lisa - helping to confirm the subject's identity as well as the dates of the work.
Portraiture had existed prior to da Vinci's famous painting, but The Mona Lisa stands out for its masterful sense of composition and balance, the intimacy of the subject, and the handling of figure, depth, and foreground. The sfumato technique (from the Latin fumare, "to smoke"), in which edges are softened by blending color in miniscule brush strokes, also helped render the smile that has intrigued viewers for centuries. X-ray examinations have shown that da Vinci also used numerous thin layers of glaze to achieve the effect.
Stealing Mona Lisa fictionalizes details from the painting's theft on August 21, 1911 from the Musée du Louvre, yet remains faithful to the basic realities. When the painting was discovered missing, it was at first thought to have been temporarily removed for photographing (and therefore not reported stolen). Artist Pablo Picasso was also suspected of involvement, though no connection was ever substantiated.
The real culprit, Vincenzo Peruggia, claimed his intention was to restore the painting to its country of origin, Italy, and he served a six month jail sentence before being released for the crime.
The great publicity surrounding the painting's theft helped make it one of the most famous works of art in the world. As author R.A. Scotti writes in the book Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, "Mona Lisa left the Louvre a work of art... She returned an icon."
For more information about The Mona Lisa check out the official website of the Musée du Louvre.
This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the
October 2012 paperback release.
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