What Was the Purpose of the “Mona Lisa”?

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was a commemoration of either the purchase of Francesco del Giocondo and his wife Lisa Gherardini’s first home in 1503 or the birth of the couple’s second son, Andrea, in 1502. In the 1960s and 1970s, the portrait served as a diplomatic tool.

The “Mona Lisa” is believed to have been painted in Florence, Italy, between 1503 and 1506. Although it was commissioned by Giocondo, a Florentine silk merchant, Leonardo da Vinci took it to France, where it was acquired by King François I after da Vinci’s death in 1519. It became part of France’s state collection after the 1789 revolution and was displayed in the bedroom of Empress Josephine during Napoleon’s regime.

In 1962, President Charles de Gaulle loaned the portrait to the United States to help improve foreign relations between the United States and France. It was also exhibited in Japan and the Soviet Union in 1974. It is on display at the Louvre in France as of 2014.

The “Mona Lisa” is said to be the most iconic painting in the world, inspiring the most parodies, songs, art and poetry. Known for her enigmatic smile, the subject of the “Mona Lisa” is assumed to be Lisa Gherardini herself. Hence its name; “Mona” is a contraction of “Ma Donna,” which means “my lady” or “madam.” The painting is also known as “La Gioconda” in Italian, a play on words on the Italian word for “happy” and her married last name.