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Have you ever wondered why certain works of art are so famous? For instance, why does the Mona Lisa enjoy celebrity status, even though there have been scores of other well-painted portraits throughout history?
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is currently known as the most famous painting in the world, but in previous centuries, it was merely regarded as a well-executed portrait by one of the Renaissance’s greatest luminaries. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the painting skyrocketed to fame. It was stolen in 1911 and recovered in 1913 – two dramatic events that catapulted the painting into the limelight. Mechanical reproduction and commercialism further propelled the fame of the painting, with the image being sold on various types of merchandise as well as appearing in countless advertisements. By now, the Mona Lisa’s fame is self-perpetuating and her legend is well-established.
The Venus de Milo is another example of a work of art that became famous not just for its beauty. Although it is one of only a few extant sculptures from the Classical period, the Venus de Milo enjoys its particular fame due to the massive propaganda efforts put forth by the French in the early 19th century, in an attempt to proclaim that their Venus was a better work of art than an Italian version of the Goddess.
The relative fame of an artwork depends on far more than just skill or execution; factors such as the timing and location of the piece, the social and political atmosphere of when it was created, and the artist’s ability to create an emotional resonance between the artwork and the viewers all play a part in why some artworks are more coveted than others. In the end, a healthy dose of fate, luck or chance doesn’t hurt, either.