5+ Things You Didn’t Know About the Mona Lisa


The Mona Lisa is undeniably one of the most recognizable works of art in existence. Believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506, one reason it’s so famous is because of its complicated history. From its creation to its crime-riddled existence, here are five things you may not know about Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa.


1. Mona Lisa’s Name Wasn’t Actually Mona

The portrait is widely believed to be of Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542 or ca. 1551), the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The mother of five children and the guardian of a sixth, she was born and died in Florence, Italy, a member of the upper class. The name Mona is actually a polite way to address a woman (originating as ma donna) similar to Ma’am or Madam in English.


2. She’s Literally Priceless

We often attach a value to something based not only on its cultural significance, but also based on its price-tag. When it comes to the Mona Lisa, that’s a little hard to do since she’s literally priceless. Not only is she never likely to go on sale which means there will never be a sale amount for the painting, but apparently back in the 1960s, the painting was given an insurance valuation of $100 million when it went out on tour. However, the policy was never actually taken out because the premiums were more than the cost of the needed security.


3. Picasso Was Once Accused of Stealing the Mona Lisa

When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on August 21, 1911, one of the prime suspects was a young artist named Pablo Picasso. A known trouble-maker in the Parisian art scene, he was in fact brought in by the police for questioning but was cleared as there was no evidence directly linking him to the crime.

The actual thief wouldn’t be caught until 1913 when he tried to sell the Mona Lisa to a Florence art dealer. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Perugia had lifted the famous painting apparently to return it to his homeland of Italy… despite the fact that it rightfully belonged in France and had never been stolen from Italy.


4. Almost Everything About the Painting Is Wonky

There are plenty of things about the Mona Lisa that just don’t seem to make sense and therefore spark all sorts of theories. For instance…

  • The woman has no eyebrows or eyelashes (some say it was the high-fashion of the time while other claim it’s proof that the painting is unfinished)
  • The fact that her arm lies across her stomach (and the positioning of her hand/wrist) was totally unheard of
  • Her arm is in fact holding up a blanket that covers her stomach and knees
  • The landscape and horizons in the background do not match up
  • There was once lace on Mona Lisa’s dress that was covered up


5. There Are At Least Five Versions of the Mona Lisa

Though there is plenty of debate over which versions are by Leonardo himself and which might be by his pupils and fans, there are currently five known versions of the Mona Lisa. 

#1 – Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa

#2 – Mujer de mano de Leonardo Abince (“Leonardo da Vinci’s handy-woman”) which is shown at Madrid’s Museo del Prado and is thought to be by his student Salai

#3 – The Isleworth Mona Lisa which is quite controversial when it comes to attribution

#4 – The Prado Museum La Gioconda, or Mona Lisa’s “Twin Sister”

#5 – 16th century copy at the Hermitage by unknown artist


(h/t Live Science, Mental Floss)