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Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452-May 2, 1519) is the paradigm of a Renaissance man, or polymath. A painter, sculptor, engineer, inventor, mathematician, scientist, architect, botanist, writer, musician, and anatomist, da Vinci is widely considered to be one of the greatest artists in the history of art. Primarily renowned for his paintings and drawings, da Vinci was influential during the High Renaissance, living and working in Florence, Milan, Roman, Bologna, and Venice. In addition to his incredible contributions to painting, he has recently been praised for his technological ingenuity, as his inventions and discoveries range from advances in anatomy and physiology to the conceptualization of helicopters. 500 years after the height of his career, da Vinci remains the subject of relentless curiosity and admiration. His Mona Lisa, Last Supper, Vitruvian Man, and John the Baptist are some of the most iconic images today, and cannot be ignored as emblems of the Western artistic tradition.
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Heralded as the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, also known as La Joconde, La Giaconda, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, has captured the imagination, hearts, and minds of admirers since its creation in the early sixteenth century. Painted sometime between 1503 and 1519 on a poplar panel, the small portrait of a composed woman with an enigmatic smile has been the subject of much speculation and mystery among art-lovers and art historians the world over. Though many theories exist about the painting's origins, the most widely accepted theory is that it was commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo to be a portrait of his wife, Lisa del Giocondo (nee Gherardini), for his new home. However, it is believed that for whatever reason, da Vinci kept it himself, taking it with him when he relocated from Florence to France in 1516, where he finished it. Upon his death, the painting passed to his assistant Salai, who sold it to the king of France to be housed at the Palace de Fontainebleu. It was then moved to the Palace of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, but eventually was moved into its current home in Paris's Musee du Louvre after the French Revolution. The painting gained even more fame and attention when a museum employee stole it from the Louvre in 1911, An Italian patriot, the thief believed that it rightfully belonged in da Vinci's home country of Italy. When he attempted to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, however, he was sorely disappointed and the painting was returned in 1913. Da Vinci's trademark use of sfumato (literally, "gone up in smoke") softens Mona Lisa's features, particularly her eyes and mouth, lending her that famous, mysterious smile that has captivated admirers for years.