What has made the 'Mona Lisa' the most famous picture in the world? Why is it that, of all the six thousand paintings in the Louvre, it is the only one to be exhibited in a special box, set in concrete and protected by two sheets of bulletproof glass? Why do thousands of visitors throng to see it every day, ignoring the masterpieces which surround it?
For nearly five hundred years the painting - and the smile on the face of the sitter - has been a source of mystery, speculation and reverence. In this ground-breaking new book Donald Sassoon describes not only the 'Mona Lisa' and its history, but its mythology, and the processes which combined to raise it to its current unrivalled level of fame.
He examines Leonardo's innovative techniques; the problems concerning the identity of the sitter; what happened to the painting after it left Italy when Leonardo joined King Francois I's court in France; the copies made in the 17th century; its celebration by 19th-century intellectuals; its theft and disappearance early in the 20th century; the surrealists', other avant-garde artists' and cartoonists' uses of it; its politically motivated trips to the United States and Japan in the 1960s and 1970s; its appropriation by the advertising industry; and the never-ending flood of new and "conclusive" theories about Mona Lisa's smile.
This is a history book like no other, a fascinating insight not just into one uniquely famous painting, but into the way the art world, and our perceptions of artistic genius, are shaped.