Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Maybe the most famous. Yet many of her visitors, thousands upon thousands each year, leave feeling underwhelmed. Personally, I've spent more time watching the crowd than looking at the painting itself.
Mona Lisa is smaller than expected, 0.77 metres by 0.53 metres, and although a beautiful and enigmatic painting, it's not really artistic merit that has her so famous.
In 1911 Mona Lisa was stolen off the wall of the Louvre. Three Italian handymen, employed to build glass cases for some of the museum's prized works, hid in a storeroom overnight and removed the painting Monday morning while the Louvre was closed. It wasn't until the next day the theft was discovered, but when the museum released a statement it made headline news around the world.
Crowds gathered at police headquarters, wanted posters appeared on Parisian walls, the French border was closed and all departing ships and trains were searched. When the museum reopened a week later Franz Kafka was along the thousands of people who queued to view the empty spot on the wall.
Conspiracy theories abounded; Pablo Picasso was among those bought in for questioning. By the time Mona Lisa was discovered two years later, when one of the thieves attempted to sell her to an Italian art dealer, she was the most famous painting in the world.
I think Mona Lisa's history, including vandalism attempts, hanging in the bathroom of the king and the unanswered question of why da Vinci kept this painting with him, makes her all the more interesting. The estimated value of $770 million doesn't hurt either.
She's worthy of a visit the next time you're in Paris.