Better Know the Mona Lisa
She's probably the most famous artwork of all time, but what do you know about her? It's time to better know the Mona Lisa.
Jay-Z and Beyonce posed with her.
Kardashians posed with her.
So did Tony Danza, Cara Delevingne, even
Nat King Cole sang about her; so did will.i.am.
She was famously stolen in 1911.
Marcel Duchamp parodied her in 1919.
Someone more recently made a towel out of her.
But who is she?
Why, after centuries, do we continue to flock to her?
Let's better know the Mona Lisa.
14 00:00:31,620 --> 00:00:35,160 Leonardo da Vinci-- yep, the original Renaissance man,
who painted "The Last Supper" and was also
an inventor, architect, engineer, and scientist--
began the portrait in 1533, while living in Florence.
It was the height of the Italian Renaissance,
when a mounting interest in humanism, as well as a growing
merchant class with disposable income,
had popularized portrait-painting.
We call it the "Mona Lisa," "Mona" being
short for "Madonna," or "lady," and his subject
is almost definitely Lisa del Giocondo, a Florentine who
married a cloth merchant at the age of 15
and would have been about 24 when it was painted.
Italians call the painting "La Gioconda," the feminine form
of her married name.
And the French likewise call it "La Joconde,"
which conveniently invokes the Latin "jocundus"
and its derivatives, meaning "pleasant" or "agreeable."
Lisa's husband, Francesco, likely
commissioned the portrait on the occasion of their moving
into a new home, or possibly after the birth
of one of their children.
But the portrait never actually got to them.
Francesco might not have paid for it,
or Leonardo could have put off finishing it
for a more important commission.
But the painting remained in the artist's possession
until his death in 1519, after he
had joined the royal court of King Francois I. From there,
the painting became the property of the king.
And, after a stay at Versailles, it eventually
made its way to the Louvre, in the late 18th century.
There it has remained-- except when this guy walked it out
of the museum, under his shirt, hid it for two years,
and then tried to return the painting
to an Italian museum which he felt was its rightful home.
Then it was back to the Louvre, until World War II came along,
and it was shuffled around France for safekeeping,
sometimes even on a stretcher in an ambulance.
It went from a chateau in the Loire valley,
to an abbey in the south of France,
to museums farther south, until it could finally
be returned to Paris after the end of the war.
While many portraits of the time were more closely
cropped and painted in profile, Lisa
is oriented more frontally and shown in half length.
Her hands are included, with her right resting delicately
over top the left.
And she's dressed fairly unremarkably--
not trying to show off with the latest trends.
She's seated in a chair, in a loggia, or an open-air room,
which looks out over a landscape.
It was made with oil paint on wood panel, using a technique
Leonardo liked called "sfumato"--
what a great word!
Say it with me-- "sfumato"--
which is the kind of smudgy, smoky
haziness you see, especially around her eyes and mouth.
It contributes to the softness and realness of Lisa
but also gives an atmospheric effect
that is almost otherworldly.
He used the same effect in some biblical scenes.
You see it here in the shading around the Virgin Mary's neck.
But our decidedly secular subject, Lisa,
while rendered hazily, is looking directly out at us--
and with her famous smile, if that's what
you call this expression.
In 2005, researchers ran the image
through emotion-recognition software, which rated features
like curvature around the lips and crinkles around the eyes,
finding the expression to be 83% happy, 9% disgusted,
6% fearful, 2% angry, less than 1% neutral, and 0% surprised.
So it's a smile, but it's not an empty smile.
There's a knowingness to it-- a smile in spite of everything,
as if she knows she's caught in this painting,
in her own turbulent time, looking out at us, whoever
we are, in our turbulent time.
Which is perhaps what makes it so indelible an image.
It has always been one of the treasures of the Louvre
collection, but it wasn't until after its 1911 theft
that it reached superstardom.
In the two days after it was returned,
more than 100,000 people came to see it.
And they really haven't stopped since then,
with millions meeting her gaze each year.
Many copies of the painting exist,
and much debate about who painted them.
Researchers recently found that one version, at the Prado,
was probably painted by an artist sitting
right next to Leonardo, following his actions, stroke
But even that one, while striking,
doesn't capture the mystery and majesty of the original.
There are nude Mona Lisas and, of course, many plays
on the original, with artists from Botero,
who painted a Lisa at age 12 and as an adult,
and Warhol, who drew the connection
between this original celebrity and the subjects of more
It doesn't appear that our attention to this painting
In fact, it might even be rising, as the internet offers
us countless reproductions, reinterpretations,
merchandisfications, and bastardisations.
Which raises the question of whether, at this point,
the "Mona Lisa" is famous primarily
because it's a masterpiece or famous primarily
because it's famous.
It may be that our identification with Lisa
is more intense than ever, as we see around us
more and more images of ourselves
looking out, staring into the eyes of unknown millions.
127 00:05:23,604 --> 00:05:25,020 While you're at it, would you like