How The Mona Lisa Once Ended Up In Napoleon's Bedroom

He is one of the most compelling and discussed figures in history, a military conqueror and political genius who dominated the western world and took for his own everything in sight, rising to become Emperor of France, and ruler of a vast European empire. She is one of the most famous and enduring faces on planet earth, though no one is quite certain of who she actually is.

His life and times remain bitterly divisive. Her smile, alluringly enigmatic. What was Napoleon Bonaparte's relationship with the "Mona Lisa," Leonardo da Vinci's greatest masterpiece? The answer is simple: he hung it, like a teenager hangs a band poster, on his bedroom wall (per The Regency Redingote).

That the most powerful man in Europe should end up possessing so intimately the most famous and coveted work of Renaissance art is not exactly unexpected, but neither is it simply a historical oddity. In fact, such a confluence can tell us much about how freely Napoleon wielded his power in the early 1800s.

The Mona Lisa: the symbol of Napoleon Bonaparte's ultimate power

Napoleon Bonaparte was not alone in being a French ruler who sought to hold the "Mona Lisa" in his private possession. King Francois I was the first French owner of the renowned Da Vinci painting, according to PBS.

Francois had been a lifelong patron of the Renaissance artist, and the Mona Lisa Foundation's website describes how the "Mona Lisa" was sold to the king at the time of Leonardo's death by the artist's assistant, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, aka Salai.

Per PBS, da Vinci's masterpiece thereafter hung in the Francois' luxurious bathhouse, the "Apartement des Bains," presumably not too close to the steam room, and entered France's National Collection as early as the 16th Century. After being passed down to a succession of French monarchs, the painting was hidden away in a warehouse for protection during the French Revolution.

Napoleon became First Consul of France in 1799, and after a series of mostly successful military campaigns, he was already all-powerful. According to The Regency Redingote, it was around this time that Napoleon's love affair with the famous painting began — the "Mona Lisa" was by this time hanging in the Louvre — giving her the nickname the "​​Sphinx of the Occident" in reference to the riddle her expression seems to pose. He ordered that she be taken to his private quarters, and with no one willing to argue with him, that's where she stayed, until 1804, by which time Napoleon was Emperor.