Between it and myself stood an assembly of souls. Clambering to see over and around one another, they had all come to see this one thing, this triumph of one man’s artistic genius. But why had they come? What is it about this one piece of art that has made it, amongst all others, the most famous piece of art in the world?
Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people at the Louvre museum in Paris France I made my way eagerly through the cluttered corridors. The splendor of the Louvre is unsurpassed. When I saw the iconic art piece from afar, I was absolutely struck by how small it is. I had imagined that it would be a goliath of a painting. But low and behold, it was less than 3 feet by 2 feet in dimension. But it was not a disappointment. No matter where you are, the Mona Lisa looks straight at you. The eyes that follow you around the room is actually an effect achieved by a painting technique that many portrait artists have mastered. But there is more to it than that, it feels as if she develops rapport with anyone and everyone who steps in the room.
For me, seeing the Mona Lisa was like returning home. There was a familiarity to it that is not explained by its fame. It is difficult to separate out the energy of the painting itself from the energy of those who have loved it and projected their thoughts upon it. The heavy, adoring thought forms that litter its field are contributed from millions of people all over the globe and indeed across history. In fact, the painting still has a good deal of Napoleon’s energy on it. The person who seems the least attached to the art piece, is the creator himself, who put much more of himself into his inventions than into his paintings.
I can promise after seeing the remainder of Leonardo’s energy on the painting that this was not his favorite painting. But he did develop an obsession with capturing the ultra feminine look of motherhood and womanhood that he saw in this particular subject. He became obsessed with capturing true womanhood as an essence. The veil on her head is not a mourning veil. It is a Spanish style veil. The Spanish style attire is a style that Lisa del Giocondo was fond of.
Lisa del Giocondo was not the kind of woman to adorn herself unnecessarily in jewels, elaborate decoration or elaborate hairstyles in the first place. She had children already by this point and did have a hand in directly raising them (as opposed to having nurse maids to do it all). And when she asked Leonardo what to adorn herself with for the project, he told her to come as senior del Giocondo (her husband) would remember her. When she showed up with only the option of wearing jewels and other adornments, Leonardo leapt at the opportunity to keep her as she was and paint such “rawness” shall we say. He felt the intimacy and the worth of a woman’s essence as just herself, absent of worldly status symbols.
The man who commissioned the piece, Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, was afraid that his wife Lisa del Giocondo would die in childbirth and having recently come into a nice bit of money through his trade, he decided that he wanted to commemorate her. Lisa was a faithful and dutiful wife, everything a husband could want a woman to be in that century. And Francesco cared for her very much. Contrary to popular opinion, the commissioner does not come across through the Akashic records as a super wealthy man. More of a middle class man. Not poor but definitely not among the most well to do people in Italy. Lisa del Giocondo was pregnant at the time that the Mona Lisa was commissioned. Leonardo painted a blanket over her legs and stomach for this reason and decided to paint only the top half of her body.
Leonardo put off finishing the portrait when he was commissioned to do a much more valuable piece that had to be done by a certain time. And when Lisa did not die in childbirth, Francesco lost his sense of necessity to see the piece completed. Sorry to disappoint, but there was no major scandal involved in the creation of this piece of art.
Leonardo tinkered with getting the painting just right for years, even when he had no “sitter” to model for him. This work that started as an “I have to paint this commission for money” for Leonardo, evolved into a desire to capture true womanhood, the kind that shows itself behind closed doors... the wife and the mother.
After Lisa no longer sat for him so that he could complete his piece, he began to draw from his mind all of his associations with womanhood and motherhood to finish the piece. This is why the painting has a “composite” feel to it. It is why the Mona Lisa feels like more than just one random woman who lived in Italy hundreds of years go. In other words, Leonardo added to the painting of Lisa del Giocondo, his concept of divine feminine. I am convinced that this is a large part of why the painting is as enigmatic as it is and sucks you in like it does.
Leonardo hated tradition and tended to go against all trends and inherent in all of his work are messages, clues to his beliefs and statements about those beliefs. The Mona Lisa is no exception. It is his statement about womanhood… the enigma of a woman, the intimacy of a woman, the wistfulness of a woman, the caring of a woman, the life journey of a woman, the misunderstood, overlooked and unspoken soul of a woman, and most especially, his statement about the true worth of a woman. Like any great painter, he painted the message so that you can feel the message instead of hear or see the message.
The Mona Lisa remained with Leonardo for years before he eventually decided to sell it to the King of France. It was common in those days for superior artists and scholars to be invited to stay at royal court for even years at a time. And on one such invite (this time to the French court) he brought the Mona Lisa with him intending to work on its completion. The king of France, who was 22 at the time, visited Leonardo's chateau near the castle and while inspecting the various articles Leonardo brought with him, was taken with the Mona Lisa. It is undisputed by painting experts that Leonardo’s artistic talent surpassed all of his other talents. He used layering effects in his paintings to make them appear three-dimensional. These techniques are ones that few if any people can reproduce today. But that is not why the king bought the piece from Leonardo, he bought it because when he inquired about the identity of the woman he had painted, Leonardo (knowing about the King's loveless marriage to his second cousin) essentially told him "it is woman" and elaborated rather un-carefully on his opinions about women in general and the sacredness of their value. I think that every man that has loved it since then (of which there have been many) has loved it for this same hidden message. They have loved it because in it is everything they subconsciously love about a woman’s divine essence. In it is the intimacy of the misunderstood, overlooked and unspoken soul of a woman. It is her true worth.
In 1911 a maintenance worker at the Louvre walked out of the museum with the Mona Lisa hidden under his coat. Up until that point, the Mona Lisa sat in the Louvre in relative obscurity. In fact until the 20th century, Leonardo da Vinci was considered to be no match for the greatness of other Renaissance artists, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the Mona Lisa.
When it was taken, the citizens of Paris were outraged about the theft of the painting even though they had paid almost no attention to. The story of the stolen painting made headlines worldwide. The “Mona Lisa” wasn’t recovered until two years later when the thief, an Italian carpenter and patriot called Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. As a patriot, he believed that the Italian painting belonged in Italy.
The burglary had catapulted the Mona Lisa to celebrity status. People flocked to see the painting when it was returned. Newspapers around the world reproduced it, inundating the world with its image; both when it was stolen and when it was returned. This media coverage made it the first work of art to achieve global fame. The Mona Lisa became an icon because of exposure.
After seeing the Mona Lisa, and with a full understanding of the exposure effect, I can honestly say that exposure effect does not fully justify why this painting captures so much attention. Given my ability to survey the unseen influences behind this painting, I will submit my opinion to you now.
My opinion is that there is no such thing as a mistake in this universe. What began as a rather uninspired commissioned painting was meant to be done on a rather unusual subject who was older than the average subject and who being pregnant at the time, modeled the very essence of womanhood. This painting was meant to never be paid for so that Leonardo would be forced to complete it as a composite of women and his forward thinking ideas about women. It was meant to be purchased and treasured by many powerful men throughout history so that it would end up at the Louvre. It was meant to be stolen exactly when it was stolen, at a time when the value of women was in question, namely in association with the right to vote. I think it was meant to be stolen so that through the exposure, the hidden message about women that is encoded in this painting, would subconsciously affect the world and push the collective conscious relative to women in the “right” direction; in the direction of valuing women. And because of this, I think that the Mona Lisa deserves its place in the limelight of our minds. It belongs there, so that we may never forget the true value and worth of a woman.