There’s a palpable sense of unease that tends to afflict tourists when they look upon something the world has deemed awe-inspiring and feel not a single ounce of interest. Stonehenge is just some rocks. The Grand Canyon’s just a hole. And Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? It’s just a painting. A kinda boring one. It’s also—as you’ll know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to see it—really, really small.
For those unaware of its history, it’s easy to feel as if you’re missing something, that your brain lacks the necessary wrinkle to appreciate true art. But the truth is that the Mona Lisa’s appeal has less to do with its content than it does its history, the likes of which is lost to most that travel to gaze upon it. Luckily, Great Big Story is here to illuminate you.
Yes, like many modern celebrities, the Mona Lisa’s initial fame was born from scandal. The painting’s inclusion in the Louvre owed mainly to the fact that it had once hung in Napoleon’s bedroom, but once it was stolen in 1911 it ignited a media firestorm that reported extensively on investigators bringing in Pablo Picasso for questioning. Despite Picasso being proven innocent, the possibility that he could’ve been involved was so scandalous that it immediately became an attraction once it was returned.
Remember, it’s not important how you get famous—it’s what you do with that fame once it’s been thrust upon you.