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How paintings like the “Mona Lisa” get their names

Who gives paintings like the Mona Lisa the name “Mona Lisa”?

Art historians. Until the middle of the 17th century, it was extremely uncommon for an artist to give his work a formal title. Most pieces were commissioned portraits or religious iconography, and there was no need for explanation. The only name a painting had was the functional identification—usually something like “Profile of a Young Woman”—found in the extensive catalogs of private owners. However, as markets developed and a culture of criticism arose, people needed a shorthand way to refer to Renaissance pieces. The more frequently a particular work was discussed, the more likely that critics and historians would reach an informal agreement over what to call the piece.

2 thoughts on “How paintings like the “Mona Lisa” get their names

  1. Yes! students take note! Some of the earliest titles are what we have on engraved “copies” (interpretations) of famous works of art. More often than not, rather than a title, the work is identified by its artist and location (such as “michelangelo in the vatican).

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