What’s So Great About the Mona Lisa?

What’s So Great About the Mona Lisa?

If you ask most artists or art historians, honestly… nothing. I personally believe the Mona Lisa is just, well, fine. Stylistically and compositionally, it is very similar to other portraits da Vinci painted in his lifetime, yet somehow Mona Lisa has become the most famous painting in the world.

Her rise to fame began more than 350 years after da Vinci completed the painting. Art critic Walter Pater wrote in his 1873 book, The Renaissance, one of the most overly-ornate descriptions of a painting ever written. However, the public loved it. It was also able to provide a written description of the painting, which was important at the time since people could not simply Google an image of Mona Lisa to see it. Pater’s gushing admiration for the painting and his poetic description of it led to its rise in popularity in the art world. However, she was still not the most popular painting in the art world, let alone a public, international icon.

Vincenzo Peruggia's Police Record

Vincenzo Peruggia’s mugshot and fingerprints

Mona Lisa‘s ultimate fame came about on August 21, 1911 when former Louvre worker, Vincenzo Peruggia, lifted the painting off the wall and took it home. This basically started a two-year-long promotion for the painting. The media published excerpts from Pater’s book which reached the general public where people were literally writing art theft fan fiction about where the painting might be and why Peruggia stole the painting in the first place. People were flocking to the Louvre to see the empty hooks where the painting once hung. Since many people had never actually seen the Mona Lisa, they were simply going along with the hype… which ended up elevating the stolen painting to celebrity status. It was because of this publicity that the Mona Lisa became the most famous painting in the world.

Today, 80% of visitors to the Louvre say they are there to see one painting- the Mona Lisa. Eighty. Percent. I’ve actually visited the Louvre, and it is enormous; filled to the brim with gorgeous examples of artwork from every corner of the world. Yet, 80% come to see only one painting.

It’s crazy to think of an alternate reality where the Mona Lisa was never stolen. Chances are, if she wasn’t, she would not be the most famous painting in the world today.

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