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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. To support our channel, or at least consider it:

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Jay-Z and Beyonce posed with her.  Kardashians posed with her.  So did Tony Danza, Cara Delevingne.  Even Richard Simmons.  Nat King Cole sang about her.  So did  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.  

Leonardo Da Vinci, yep, the original Renaissance man, who painted The Last Supper and was also an inventor, architect, engineer, and scientists began the portrait in 1503 while living in Florence.  It was the height of the Italan 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 in to 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 (?~2:11) 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 (?~2:38) or 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 smokey 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 (?~4:18) was probably painted by an artist sitting right next to Leonardo, following his actions stroke by 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 recent paparazzi.

It doesn't appear that our attention to this painting is waning.  In fact, it might even be rising, as the internet offers us countless reproductions, reinterpretations, merchandisifications, and bastardizations, 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.  


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