The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa, created by the famous Italian Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, is one of–if not the–most famous paintings in art history. Leonardo was commissioned by a wealthy Italian merchant at the very beginning of the 16th century to paint a picture of the merchant’s wife, Lisa del Giocondo, to celebrate the birth of the couple’s second child.

While Lisa del Giocondo has traditionally been held to have been the subject of the portrait, many scholars have come up with different theories as to who the woman might be, with some even hypothesizing that it was not a woman at all, but the artist, Leonardo da Vinci himself. The identity of the woman as Lisa del Giocondo was recently confirmed by historical evidence. The painting has also been called “La Gioconda,” a word play based on Lisa del Giocondo’s last name, as “gioconda” means “happy” or “joyful” in Italian.

The worldwide fame of the Mona Lisa is actually relatively recent, as the painting came to be held in high esteem due to the attention devoted to it by 19th-century artists, who extolled the artistic and symbolic virtues of this masterpiece. Its fame was spread further by its theft in 1911 from the Louvre (the criminal, a Louvre employee, was caught, and the painting returned in 1913), as well as vandalism that damaged the painting (it was restored through the efforts of dedicated conservation teams). Today, it is the property of the French government, and can still be found in the Louvre, where it draws millions of tourists every year.