The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world, created by Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance period. The painting has been admired for its intricate details, enigmatic smile, and how it seems to follow the viewer's gaze.
Beyond its beauty, the painting also holds several secrets and mysteries that have captivated art historians and enthusiasts for centuries. But there is one secret in particular that changes everything.
The Painting Began In 1503
Leonardo da Vinci began working on the Mona Lisa in 1503 when he was commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy merchant from Florence.
He was commissioned to paint a portrait of his wife, Lisa Gherardini.
da Vinci Left The Painting Unfinished
It took da Vinci several years to complete the painting, and it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1519.
Over the years, the painting has changed hands several times and has been the subject of various restorations and controversies.
Mystery #1: The Woman's True Identity
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Mona Lisa is the subject's identity. While it is widely believed to be Lisa Gherardini, no concrete evidence existed to confirm this until 2006.
Some art historians have suggested that the painting might be a self-portrait of Leonardo in drag, while others have argued that it depicts a different woman altogether.
A Member Of The Sforza Family?
One theory regarding the subject's identity suggests that she was a member of the Sforza family, a powerful dynasty in Renaissance Italy.
According to this theory, the painting was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, to celebrate the marriage of his nephew to a member of the Gherardini family. This theory is supported by the fact that the painting was discovered to be possessed by a Sforza family member in the 16th century.
The Secret Revealed: Mona Lisa, His Beloved Wife
In 2006, a book was published titled Mona Lisa Revealed by Giuseppe Pallanti. In the book, Pallanti discussed the woman's identity in da Vinci's painting, thanks to records surrounding Francesco del Giocondo's last will and testament.
According to the author, del Giocondo's will named his wife "Mona Lisa, his beloved wife."
Mystery #2: The True Emotion
While that one mystery was solved, others have sprung up over the years. Another mystery surrounding the painting is the reason for the subject's smile. Some have interpreted it as a sign of happiness, while others have seen it as a subtle expression of sadness or melancholy.
The painting's enigmatic smile has inspired countless interpretations and theories over the years.
Mystery #3: What The Landscape Means
Another mystery surrounding the painting is the landscape in the background, which features mountains, a river, a lake, and a bridge, the only man-made object featured in the painting.
Some have suggested that the landscape might represent a real place in Italy, while others have seen it as a symbol of life's journey.
Years Of Theories
The painting's intricate details have also inspired numerous interpretations and theories over the years, with some claiming to have discovered hidden images within the painting.
Some of these hidden images are shocking!
The Hidden Images
Some people have claimed to have discovered hidden images within the painting, such as a skull in the landscape or a hidden code in the subject's gaze.
These theories are largely speculated and have been met with skepticism by many art historians.
The Mona Lisa Influenced Generationss Of Artists
The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece and a symbol of the Renaissance period and the Italian cultural heritage.
It has been praised for its technical excellence and artistic innovation, influencing generations of artists and art lovers.
Portrayed Throughout Pop Culture And Reproduced
Its image has been reproduced countless times, making it one of the most recognizable works of art in the world.
But the biggest mystery is arguably surrounding the Mona Lisa people know from the Louvre Museum and a secondary, nearly identical painting called Isleworth Mona Lisa.
The Isleworth Mona Lisa
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is very similar to the Mona Lisa people are most likely familiar with.
Amazingly, some believe the former painting, allegedly also created by da Vinci, was the first.
Purchased In Italy And Claimed To Be An Original da Vinci
Originally, the Isleworth Mona Lisa was purchased by a merchant in Italy. The seller claimed it was an original da Vinci, making the prospect of owning the piece even greater.
One hundred years later, English art collector Hugh Blaker saw the painting, also thinking it was some special, and purchased it for his own.
A Study Was Conducted, Comparing The Two Paintings
Blake's stepfather, John R. Eyre, was interested in the piece and eventually brought people to study it. They concluded it was a da Vinci and, amazingly, was a portrait of Gherardini.
They claimed the artist made two portraits, and the Isleworth Mona Lisa was the first.
The Next Owner: Henry F. Pulitzer
Henry F. Pulitzer was the painting's next owner. He, too, studied its origins, eventually writing a book on his findings, Where Is The Mona Lisa?
While he might have been biased to sell his book, Pulitzer claimed the Isleworth Mona Lisa was the real Mona Lisa, and the iconic painting everyone knows is a portrait of someone else, not Gherardini.
Experts Weren't Buying Into The Claims
While the three men had their theories about the painting's origins, no experts gave credence to their findings and claims. It didn't help that the Isleworth Mona Lisa sat in a Swiss bank for 30 years after the passing of Pulitzer.
The research on the painting did not begin again until 2008.
The Mona Lisa Foundation Was Created
After the painting reemerged into the public eye, the Mona Lisa Foundation was formed to study it with the goal of figuring out if it was, in fact, a da Vinici and the original portrait.
According to the BBC, vice president David Feldman said, "[the foundation] does not have any stake in the painting." They only want "to examine facts in the most objective light possible."
da Vinci Was Known To Create Two Versions Of His Work
The foundation's first course of action was dabbling into historical resources. It's well-known among scholars that da Vinci had a habit of creating more than one version of the same subject.
It was just a matter of figuring out if the Isleworth Mona Lisa was one of those versions or the first.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
While the duplicate theory was floating around, the foundation also took into consideration artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael.
After seeing da Vinci's Mona Lisa in 1505, Raphael recreated the painting from memory, with a few distinct differences.
Difference #1: The Columns
The first similarity in the paintings is the depiction of a column. In da Vinci's Mona Lisa, only the base of the column is visible.
In contrast, the entire column is visible in the Isleworth Mona Lisa on either side of the lady.
Difference #2: The Age Of The Subject
Another difference people have noted is the age of Gherardini in the Isleworth version compared to the Mona Lisa. In the former's version, Gherardini appears younger than the painting in the Louvre.
People believe it is because Giocondo commissioned the first version in 1503, while another patron, Giuliano de' Medici, commissioned the second years later. It still begs the question whether of not the paintings were created by the same person.
Difference #3: The Surface
Scholars will say da Vinci was a man of habit, typically utilizing wood as his medium. While the Mona Lisa is painted on wood, the Iselworth version is on linen.
The latter material was rarely used by the artist, especially later in his life.
A Research Physicist Came Into The Conversation
John Asmus, a research physicist from the University of California, boiled it down to a certainty.
In a peer-reviewed essay speaking of both paintings, he concluded both paintings were created by the same artist.
"The Same Artist Painted At Least The Face..."
That being said, the entirety of both paintings may not have been created.
According to the Mona Lisa Foundation's vice president David Feldman, "The same artist painted at least the face of both the Isleworth and Louvre Mona Lisas."
If One Painting If Denied, So Is The Other
Feldman continued, saying, "If one denies the Isleworth is by da Vinci, then one also denies the Louvre version."
Even so, experts are still skeptical whether or not the Isleworth version was actually painted by da Vinci, questioning why the foundation claims it as such.
The Foundation Wasn't Giving Straight Answers
For one, in 2015, the Mona Lisa Foundation came under fire.
They would not give a straight answer if the people who brought the painting to light were members of the foundation or served on the board.
Were There Ulterior Motives Regarding The Purchase?
Feldman also refused to answer when asked if the buyers of the Isleworth painting had ulterior motives.
Did they purchase the painting for the sole purpose of reselling the painting as a da Vinci, profiting in the process?
A Voice Against The Findings
Martin Kemp, an art history professor at Oxford University, disagreed with the foundation's findings.
He said the under-drawings found during their infrared scans did not match da Vinci's typical pre-painting techniques. Kemp is one of the world's leading experts on everything da Vinci.
Isleworth Wasn't Worth Kemp's Time
Kemp didn't bother traveling to see the Isleworth version, saying, "[I saw] nothing to convince me that seeing it in the flesh is of high priority."
"I am sent many non-Leonardos – as many as one a week – and have to make choices. If I traveled to see every hopeful 'Leonardo,' I would be impoverished."
Even So, Isleworth Is Still Showcased In Public
Even with two different verdicts surrounding the origin of the Isleworth Mona Lisa, the painting has still been showcased in exhibits around the world.
It is the new owner's wish to continue to show the potential da Vinci painting in public.