Who was the Mona Lisa in real life? Story behind Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting

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Many historians have found answers as to who they believed the Mona Lisa was in real life. The most common answer is that the Mona Lisa is a portrait of the real Lisa Gherardini, who was born on June 15, 1479 in Via Maggio, Republic of Florence and died on July 15, 1542. Gherardini was the wife of a Florentine merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. However, some historians have different ideas about who the famous work of art depicts. Some believe that the Mona Lisa is not a real person at all, but rather a figment of Leonardo da Vinci’s imagination or a portrait depicting many women. Others believe it is a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself. Although there are theories as to who the person in the painting with the famously subtle smile is, the most popular theory is Lisa Gherardini. The work of art, which has become one of the most famous paintings in the world, has been in the Louvre in Paris since 1804.

Why doesn’t the Mona Lisa have eyebrows?

The Mona Lisa actually has (or had) eyebrows that are no longer visible in the painting. According to a Parisian engineer named Pascal Cotte, who studied the painting extensively, he said that the woman in the painting once had both eyelashes and eyebrows, but over time they are no longer visible. Cotte said 240-megapixel scans performed on the painting show traces of what used to be her left eyebrow.

Millions of people visit the Louvre Museum in Paris, France every year. The Mona Lisa pictured here is one of many famous paintings in the Louvre.
(Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)

What is hidden in the Mona Lisa?

The same engineer who discovered the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows also discovered an interesting find underneath the popular painting. Cotte developed a camera using Lumiere technology that could identify charcoal lines in areas of the painting. The Louvre Museum allowed Cotte to take photographic scans of the Mona Lisa, and he published his findings in the Journal of Cultural Heritage in August 2020. His camera used the layered amplification method (LAM) to detect light reflected at 13 wavelengths. In simpler terms, this method allowed him to see tiny details that were hidden beneath the painting and not visible to the naked eye.


Cotte discovered that Leonardo da Vinci used the “Splovero” technique in creating the painting, meaning that early sketches of the painting were transferred to a canvas by making holes along the outside of the sketch. He found that the painting’s underdrawing shows a different silhouette than what is seen in the painting. Eventually he spotted a small hairpin just above the Mona Lisa’s head, which he found particularly interesting because it was not a typical hairstyle for women in Florence at the time, which he says alludes to the idea that the painting was not a portrait, as many believe, but a painting of an “unreal woman, like a goddess”.

How many times has the Mona Lisa been vandalized?

The Mona Lisa has been destroyed five times, with the first known time dating back to 1956 and the last in 2022.

Millions flock to the Louvre every year to catch a glimpse of the famous painting.

Millions flock to the Louvre every year to catch a glimpse of the famous painting.
((Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)

In 1956, the Mona Lisa was attacked not once, but twice. First, someone threw acid at it, hitting the lower parts of the painting. In the same year, a stone was thrown at the Mona Lisa. Luckily the painting had been placed behind glass.


In 1974 the Mona Lisa hit the streets. At the Tokyo National Museum, a woman spray-painted the top of the Mona Lisa red.

In 2009 the painting of the Mona Lisa was hit again, this time not by a rock but by a teacup, and in 2022 the Mona Lisa was encrusted in protest against climate change. A 36-year-old man dressed as a woman in a wheelchair threw cakes at the Mona Lisa while shouting about climate change in French.

In 1911, before all these incidents happened, the Mona Lisa was stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia, who hid in a cupboard in the Louvre and stole it after the Louvre closed. Two years later he tried to sell the artwork but was caught.

The Mona Lisa is on display at the Lourve in Paris, France.

The Mona Lisa is on display at the Lourve in Paris, France.
(Kristy Sparow/Getty Images for David Yurman)


Who poured acid on the Mona Lisa?

Acid thrown at the Mona Lisa was one of five instances where the painting was vandalized. It is not known who threw the acid at the famous painting. The painting was placed behind glass for added protection in 1956 after this incident.

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