1632 Van Dyck was paid by Charles I for three portraits ‘at half length’ of the royal family, as well as for other portraits ‘at length’. As a term, ‘half length’ was used in a listing of restored pictures in the Clarendon collection, c.1683-5. The half-length as a description was an international term and implied a portrait to below the waist and generally to the knees. Indeed such portraits are sometimes so described in early sources in Britain: ‘to ye knees’ or a ‘knee cloth’, though in most inventories and descriptions the term ‘half-length’ was preferred.Such descriptions remained in common currency, used for example by Sir Joshua Reynolds, already quoted, who described a portrait to a client as ‘As far as the Knees’. In 1792 the poet William Cowper described his seated portrait by Lemuel Abbott , ‘It is half-length, as it is technically but absurdly call’d: that is to say it gives all but the foot and ancle’. Since the mid-19th century, the half-length has generally been described as a three-quarter length.
Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa about 1503, and it was in his studio when he died in 1519. He likely worked on it intermittently over several years, adding multiple layers of thin oil glazes at different times. Small cracks in the paint, called craquelure, appear throughout the whole piece, but they are finer on the hands, where the thinner glazes correspond to Leonardo’s late period.
Who is Mona Lisa?
The painting is believed to have been commissioned by her husband, Francesco del Giocondo, a cloth and silk merchant who married Lisa when she was still in her teens.
Together the couple had 5 children and they lived a relatively comfortable life in the late 15th and early 16th century in Florence, Italy, which was then one of the biggest cities in Europe.
French King Francis I, in whose court Leonardo spent the last years of his life, acquired the work after the artist’s death, and it became part of the royal collection. For centuries the portrait was secluded in French palaces, until insurgents claimed the royal collection as the property of the people during the French Revolution (1787–99). Following a period hanging in Napoleon’s bedroom, the Mona Lisa was installed in the Louvre Museum at the turn of the 19th century.
1911 the painting was stolen, causing an immediate media sensation. People flocked to the Louvre to view the empty space where the painting had once hung, the museum’s director of paintings resigned, and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso were even arrested as suspects. Two years later an art dealer in Florence alerted local authorities that a man had tried to sell him the painting. Police found the portrait stashed in the false bottom of a trunk belonging to Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant who had briefly worked at the Louvre fitting glass on a selection of paintings, including the Mona Lisa. He and possibly two other workers had hidden in a closet overnight, taken the portrait from the wall the morning of August 21, 1911, and run off without suspicion. Peruggia was arrested, tried, and imprisoned, while the Mona Lisa took a tour of Italy before making its triumphant return to France.
8. think you didn’t know
1. MONA LISA IS SMALLER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
Mona Lisa‘s influence on culture is massive, but the oil-on-wood panel painting measures just 30 inches by 21 inches and weighs 18 pounds.
2. HER EYEBROWS ARE A MATTER OF DEBATE
Some claim the subject’s lack of eyebrows is representative of high-class fashion of the time. Others insist her AWOL eyebrows are proof that Mona Lisa is an unfinished masterpiece. But in 2007 ultra-detailed digital scans of the painting revealed da Vinci had once painted on eyebrows and bolder eyelashes. Both had simply faded over time or had fallen victim to years of restoration work.
3. MEN HAVE DIED FROM LOVING HER
In 1852, an artist named Luc Maspero supposedly threw himself from the fourth floor of a Parisian hotel, leaving a suicide note that read: “For years I have grappled desperately with her smile. I prefer to die.” In 1910, one enamored fan came before her solely to shoot himself as he looked upon her.
4 . THE MONA LISA IS ESSENTIALLY PRICELESS
In the 1960s, the painting went on a tour where it was given an insurance valuation of $100 million (factoring in inflation, more recent assessment estimated it’s worth $2.5 billion). But the policy was never taken out because the premiums were more than the cost of the best security.
5. THE MONA LISA HAS BEEN ATTACKED!
If you look closely at the subject’s left elbow, you might notice the damage done by Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a Bolivian who chucked a rock at the portrait in 1956. A few months before, another art attacker pitched acid at the painting, which hit the lower section. These attacks inspired the bulletproof glass, which in 2009 successfully rebuffed a ceramic mug hurled by an enraged Russian woman who’d been denied French citizenship.
6. It is a painting but not a canvas
Da Vinci’s famous masterpiece is painted on a poplar plank. Considering he was accustomed to painting larger works on wet plaster, a wood plank does not seem that outlandish. Canvas was available to artists since the 14th century, but many Renaissance masters preferred wood as a basis for their small artworks.
7. She receives fan mail
Since the painting first arrived at the Louvre in 1815, “Mona Lisa” has received plenty of love letters and flowers from admirers. She even has her own mailbox.
8. Not everyone is a fan
Various vandals have tried to harm da Vinci’s famed masterpiece, and 1956 was a particularly bad year. In two separate attacks, one person threw acid at the painting, and another individual pelted it with a rock. The damage is faint but still noticeable. The addition of bulletproof glass repelled subsequent attacks with spray paint in 1974 and a coffee cup in 2009.