What's that small thing everyone's staring at? Arguably it's the world's most famous painting. If you want a closer look, you'll have to push your way through the crowd at Paris' Louvre to get to it. And be sure to lock your valuables somewhere on your person because the room is well known as a den of thieves. Pickpockets rule here, and signs everywhere warn you to be careful.
One of my most anti-climatic moments as a traveler came when seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time. I'd read and heard so much about it -- one of the great Leonardo da Vinci's few paintings, and of a mystery woman (possibly Lisa del Giocondo) with such an unusual smile. That smile -- what does it mean? Who knows? Who cares? It's a beautiful work, but there are so many other paintings I prefer that I find it hard to understand what all the fuss is about.
A few "facts" about the painting. Leonardo started it somewhere between 1503 and 1506. It's painted on a poplar panel, not canvas. It's of a woman in Italian dress typical of the era in which it was created. Da Vinci started the painting in Italy but likely finished it many years later after he moved to France. The Mona Lisa was a favorite painting of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who kept it near him in Versailles. Since the French Revolution the painting has been property of the Louvre.
The painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. After a two year absence, it was discovered that it had been stolen by a worker in the Louvre, who hid in a broom closet until the museum closed, tucked it under his jacket and walked out with it. The thief was an Italian who thought the Mona Lisa belonged in Italy and not France, and he was apprehended trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was displayed in Florence for a few weeks after it was recovered, but then returned to its Parisian home. The theft did much to bring the painting to the world's attention and gave it a huge boost in public recognition and popularity.
Today the picture rests in a climate controlled case behind bullet-proof glass in its own room, where you can join dozens of others in trying to get a glimpse. The painting is a Heritage property of the people of France and can not be bought or sold.
Take a look, take a photo, and move on to more interesting things.