Controversy has surrounded the #La Gioconda…and continues

Photo of the Mona Lisa from Wikimedia Commons contributed by Musee du Louvre and is in the public domain in the USA
Photo of the Mona Lisa from Wikimedia Commons contributed by Musee du Louvre and is in the public domain in the USA

I think most people take for granted that the painting La Gioconda ( or the Mona Lisa) was painted by Leonardo da Vinci and that it is a unique work by the famous Italian painter. It turns out that there is a stir of controversy that has been going on for quite some time over many of the details about this painting. In fact, there is an entire Wikipedia article ( ) with an extensive bibliography that outlines some of the major points of controversy about the painting.

Among the open questions: Is the painting that hangs in the Louvre unique? Or did the artist paint other versions of the same theme? Who is the model that posed for the painting? When did da Vinci finish the painting?

Even the basic facts that are documented in the Wikipedia article about the “Mona Lisa” ( ) are subject to debate. That article states that the painting is thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and is painted in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel. It is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506, although Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517. It was apparently acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at The Louvre museum in Paris since 1797.

Again, according to the same article, the title of the painting that is known in English as “Mona Lisa” stems from a description by Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife.” Mona in Italian is a polite form of address originating as ma donna —similar to Ma’am, Madam, or my lady in English. This became madonna, and its contraction mona. The title of the painting, though traditionally spelled "Mona" (as used by Vasari), is also commonly spelled in modern Italian as Monna Lisa, but this is rare in English.

The article continues by stating that Leonardo was invited by King François I in 1516 to work at the Clos Lucé near the king’s castle in Amboise. It is believed that he took the Mona Lisa with him and continued to work after he moved to France. Art historian Carmen C. Bambach has concluded that da Vinci probably continued refining the work until 1516 or 1517. On his death the painting was inherited, among other works, by his pupil and assistant Salaì. Apparently, the king bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at the Palace of Fontainebleau, where it remained until given to Louis XIV. Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre.

There are countless interesting articles in the reference section of the Wikipedia article about the controversy, but here are a couple of them that seemed especially interesting:

Was da Vinci’s pupil Salaì the model for the painting?

Is there another original painting of the Mona Lisa by da Vinci?

One question you don’t see posed much is: should La Gioconda, which hangs in the Louvre, be returned to Italy? Given the amount of controversy surrounding the painting already, if you then add this dimension of the rightful ownership of the painting it becomes even further mired in controversy.

Interestingly, there is a seminar this week in Milan about the circulation of cultural artifacts and among the sponsors is the UN agency ISPAC ( ), which is involved with the prevention of crime relating to cultural artifacts (see my translation of the article about this topic). The issue surrounding the movement of paintings and other works of art from their country of origin, legally or otherwise, is of course a global issue and is not unique to this famous painting by da Vinci.

We would like to hear the opinions of our readers. What do you think? Should La Gioconda be returned to Italy?

Ci sentiamo presto, Lina

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