For centuries, the 'Mona Lisa' has served as a source of inspiration for artists around the world. Now that an early replica has changed hands for a high price, we take a closer look at this phenomenon.
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been copied from just about the time it was created. Famous replications include the Prado Mona Lisa at the Museo Prado in Madrid, said to be made by student of Leonardo's during the master's lifetime, perhaps Andrea Salai or Francesco Melzi, and the Isleworth Mona Lisa, rumoured to be a copy by da Vinci himself.
Da Vinci sold his original Mona Lisa shortly before his death to the French King Francis I, who had been his last patron and had brought him to France. The now world-famous painting thus became part of the royal collection and was initially kept in the castles of Amboise and Fontainebleau before it moved to the Louvre in the 17th century.
In the 17th century, part of the training of an artist was to copy the works of great masters, often from the royal collections. Of course, the Mona Lisa served as a template. One such replica from the early 17th century was auctioned off at Christie's in an online auction in June 2021, achieving €2.9 million (£2.5 mil).
See also: New Secrets About Mona Lisa Revealed
This makes the painting the most expensive replica of the Mona Lisa to ever been auctioned, according to Barnebys' database of realised prices. Previously, the record was held by another 17th century replica that had been auctioned at Sotheby's in New York for $1.6 million (£1.15 mil) in 2019.
But over the centuries, the Mona Lisa has not just been copied: she has become a world-famous icon and artistic muse.
She has inspired many artists who have created their own works based on Leonardo's famous painting. Here, we take a closer look at some of them the ones in Barnebys' database.
The most expensive artistic interpretation of the Mona Lisa is by Andy Warhol. Warhol began screen printing in the 1960s, exploring repetition in his art. With a postcard of the Mona Lisa, he created various works, the most well-known being Thirty Are Better Than One. In 2015, his Colored Mona Lisa was auctioned at Christie's for $56 million (£36.6 mil).
Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades were an important precursor to Warhol's Pop Art. In 1919, the 400th anniversary of da Vinci's death, Duchamp added a moustache and goatee to a printed reproduction of the Mona Lisa and titled his work LHOOQ. The French pun (Elle a chaud au cul, or 'She has a hot ass') suggests a woman with a strong sexual appetite. Over the years, Duchamp made several versions of LHOOQ, with the most expensive one to date fetching $1.2 million (£824,220) at Christie's in October 2019.
In 1959, the Colombian artist Fernando Botero took the Mona Lisa and created a series of paintings depicting the Renaissance woman at a young age. The works were an important step for Botero on the way to his voluminous figures, for which he is famous today. Another work from this series, Mona Lisa, Aged 12 (1959), was also the first ever that he was able to sell to a major museum: The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
See also: The Enduring Appeal of Old Masters
The present version, which was sold at Christie's in 2018 for $1 million, shows a still childlike Mona Lisa in a pink dress and with a bow in her hair which replaces the veil.
When in 1960 Surrealist René Magritte painted his version of the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (the Italian name of the painting), he wasn't even aware of it. It was the art historian Suzi Gablik, who lived with Magritte for a few months, who came up with the title. Later that decade, Magritte selected some of his paintings to create bronze sculptures based on them. One of these was La Joconde. These sculptures fetch prices of up to £1.5 million on the auction market. The 1960 painting sold for £2.5 million at Sotheby's in 2011.
See also: Surrealism and the Subconscious
Our final example is a continuation of the Duchamp and Warhol versions. In 2000, Banksy represented the da Vinci work after he moved from Bristol to London and discovered the use of stencils in his street art. His Mona Lisa, which changed hands at Christie's for £731,250 in 2019, was also created using a stencil and spray paint. In his usual ironic way, Banksy turned the icon into both victim and perpetrator. In 2004, Banksy had secretly hung a Mona Lisa with a smiley face between the paintings in the Louvre.
And what about the real Mona Lisa? The Louvre will probably never part with it – even if it wanted to. The painting is the property of the French state and therefore not for sale. An offer to buy Mona Lisa to benefit French cultural industry, which was hurting financially a result of the pandemic, was recently made by an entrepreneur whose purchase price was €50 billion.
Who could afford to spend such vast sums of money? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, of course. A petition – possibly not meant to be very serious – went a step further and demanded that the richest person in the world not only buy the painting, but also eat it.