It is known the world over that the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci hangs in the Louvre. But what you may not have known is that there are four other masterpieces by Da Vinci also to be found there making the Louvre home to the largest collection of Da Vinci paintings in the world.
The Louvre and a self portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci
When I discovered this I wondered how did so many paintings from arguably the best known Italian Renaissance painter end up in a French museum. Well, it was in fact Leonardo himself who brought three of these masterpieces to France when he came to live at Clos Lucé, the manor house on the grounds of the Royal Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley, where he had been invited to live by King Francis 1.
Francis 1 was a great patron of the arts so when he met Da Vinci in Bologna in 1515 he invited the painter to move to France as the ‘King’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect’. Leonardo duly accepted the offer probably being tempted by the generous pension and the promise by the King to be free ‘to dream, to think and to work’ as Leonardo saw fit. Leonardo, then aged 64, crossed the alps by donkey bringing with him, in leather saddle bags, the ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Saint John the Baptist’ and ‘The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne’.
Leonardo lived out the last three years of his life at Clos Lucé and following his death the three paintings entered the collection of Francis 1 probably having been bought by the King from Leonardo’s pupil and assistant, Salai, who appears to have inherited them from Leonardo.
The Mona Lisa, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, Saint John the Baptist.
Thereafter the paintings all followed different paths but after the French Revolution, all entered the collection at the Louvre. The fourth Da Vinci painting now hanging in the Louvre is ‘The Virgin on the Rocks’ and it was initially commissioned for a church in Milan but seems never to have found its way there. There are a few theories on what happened to the painting next but according to the Louvre’s website it was acquired by Louis Xlll of France around 1500-1503. It again entered the Louvre’s collection following the French Revolution.
The final Da Vinci painting hanging in the Louvre is ‘La Belle Ferronnière’ and it is the least documented of all the paintings. It’s first mention is in an inventory of french royal paintings dated 1683 and like the rest of the royal collection it entered the Louvre after the French Revolution.
Italian campaigners have been calling for the return of the Mona Lisa to Florence and these calls have been backed by the actor George Clooney, following his making of the movie ‘The Monuments Men’. Clooney directed, produced and starred in the movie which is about the recovery of stolen art from the Nazis during World War 11. But you have to feel, given that it was Leonardo Da Vinci himself who brought the Mona Lisa to France and which was legitimately bought by the french King, that this painting so closely associated with the Louvre should be left to hang where it has been enjoyed by so many for so long!