Art history explores the history of art from prehistoric times to modern times. This discipline challenges ones creative side and motivate him or her to discover the aesthetic appeal of manmade forms. One of the historic masterpieces of world art is the sixteenth century portrait of Mona Lisa done by the talented Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The half-length portrait, set on a canvas of Poplar Wood, shows a woman seated whose identity is believed to be Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a Florentine businessman.
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The woman’s smile, often described as enigmatic, is the most intriguing aspect of the painting and it is also the subject of much speculation. Although it was not signed or dated, the novel qualities of the painting has made it to be recognized as the most famous and mystifying work of art of all time.
It is believed that Leonardo started working on the portrait in 1503 or 1504 in Italy. Since it was its best painting, he went with it throughout his journeys, working and reworking it for almost four years and he kept it himself for some years after, finishing it just before he died in 1525 (Karlz, 2003). Years later, the King of France purchased it for 4,000 gold crowns, supposedly through the successors of Leonardo’s assistant Salai.
It has received the world’s attention since then. Following the French Revolution, Mona Lisa was taken to the Louvre. Napoleon had it transferred to the palace for adorning his bedroom and when he was banished from France, the painting yet again returned to the care of the Louvre. Historians believe that it was transferred from the Louvre to undisclosed location somewhere in the country during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Currently, the famous portrait is found in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.
Leonardo employed a pyramid design technique to position the seated female figure simply and peacefully in the space of the painting in which her folded hands represent the front corner of the pyramid. The woman’s breast, neck, and face shine in the same light that shapes her hands, and Leonardo efficiently modified the pyramid design so as to create the visual impression of distance between Mona Lisa and the viewer.
The painting shows the female figure clearly sitting upright with her hands folded; only her eyes are fixed on the viewer. This depicts her reserved posture. Because her dazzlingly lit face is basically framed with a variety of much darker elements, the viewer’s attraction to this mysterious woman is increased, but has to stay at a distance as if she were not an ordinary human being.
Mona Lisa is shown seated in what seems to be an open loggia and an extensive landscape receding to icy mountains as well as undulating imaginary valleys and rivers are behind her. Leonardo’s depiction of harmony in the portrait, particularly evident in the woman’s half smile, is an indication of the relationship between humankind and nature.
The enigmatic woman lacks visible facial hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes, suggesting that their presence at that time was regarded to be unsightly among the well-mannered women, and their absence adds to the somewhat semi-abstract quality of her facial expression to modern observers.
In a portrait, the main communicative components of the face of an individual are the positions of the lips and the eyes; however, in painting Mona Lisa, Leonardo intentionally left these areas in shadow. This makes individuals to interpret differently the emotions on the face of the seated woman.
The smile of the seated woman is the hallmark of this piece of art. The majority of Leonardo’s works were distinguishable from the use of this style. Different suggestions have been brought forward to explain the smile including the idea that it originated from his mother and that he was just concerned with certain aspects of artistic expression.
However, the truth is that this mysterious smile did not originate from Leonardo since a number of pieces of art from the fifteenth century also portray the same style. The sitter is notable for her lack of jewels on her body. However, the custom at that time was to present subjects with intricate adornments. The painting that was done by Titan of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, illustrates this.
The woman’s hair is smooth. It only has the cover of a black veil. This portrait did not match up to the trends of the time. It is an ideal example that illustrates that Leonardo was not being dictated by the traditions of the time. He deserted the common postures and opted for a relaxed woman sitting down, with her folded hands calmly resting on a chair.
Although the over 500-year old painting has lost some aesthetics, its mystery still remains. Several attempts have been made to restore it to its original state. This product of the Renaissance has been a source of inspiration for several writers, poets, and musicians. Nonetheless, the style that Leonardo used to produce this portrait is still a subject of close investigation.
Karlz, J. (2003). The Mona Lisa. North Mankato, MN. : Creative Education.