It was Giorgio Vasari, Mannerist painter and the first art historian, who served as the Mona Lisa’s Simon Cowell, launching her career of stardom in his Lives of the Artists. In a five star review, he described how Leonardo would employ singers and jesters to stop his sitter lapsing into melancholy – only he had never actually seen the work. By his time the Mona Lisa had moved to Fontainbleau.Well, since 1574*,actually it hasn’t.The Mona Lisa went missing between 1911 and 1913, stolen by a Louvre employee who eventually tried to sell it in Florence. Its first official excursion outside France was to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC in 1963.
The painting has stayed in France ever since …
Left to right: President Kennedy, Mme Malraux, French Minister of Culture André Malraux,
Jackie Kennedy and Vice President Johnson
Lisa Liebman’s article, Jackie, JFK and the Art of Diplomacy, in Tate etc Spring 2006 explains how this loan came about. No doubt there is more in Mona Lisa in Camelot, by Margaret Leslie Davis, which I haven’t seen but was excerpted in Vanity Fair in November 2008. Later on in 1963, the painting went to New York. In 1974 there were loans to the Tokyo National Museum and to Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
Recently there has been talk of a loan to Florence in 2013, or even to one of the Gulf states in support of French diplomatic soft power. Given current uncertainties, neither possibility seems very likely.
*(Giorgio Vasari, 1511-1574)