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Painted between 1503 and 1505 by Leonardo da Vinci, La Gioconda (or La Joconde in French, but commonly known as the Mona Lisa) is perhaps the most widely known and recognised work of Western art. It depicts a woman in typical early sixteenth century Florentine dress, seated in a mountainous landscape, who wears a smile1 usually described as 'enigmatic'. It is considered by many to be the prototypical Renaissance portrait.
Where to see it
The picture has been kept in the Louvre museum in Paris, France since the Restoration2. Despite the work's enduring popularity, the curators have sadly seen fit to ensure that a trip to see it is likely to prove disappointing. The relatively low light levels, the thick throng of visitors making close access difficult, and the protective but highly reflective layers of glass in front of it all conspire to make it seem dull and uninspiring. Anyone wishing to study the picture in detail would be well advised to obtain a high quality print; a visit will be more of a symbolic pilgrimage than a good chance to enjoy the painting.
Fans of Dr Who will be aware of a question hanging over the picture's provenance. In the story3 'City of Death', written by none other than the late great Douglas Adams4, it was revealed that in fact da Vinci painted 6 copies of the Mona Lisa. This was part of an evil alien's devious plan, the details of which are unimportant here, but the net result of which is that although the Doctor thwarted the plans, the canvas on which the painting now in the Louvre was painted has the words "This is a fake" written on it in felt tip.