The Mona Lisa (1503 to 1506 AD) is a half-length portrait of a woman by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, which has been acclaimed as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” Mona in Italian is a polite form to address a woman —similar to Ma’am, Madam, or my lady in English.
The painting’s fame was emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911. The Louvre, where it is currently on display, was closed for an entire week to aid in investigation of the theft. After two years being missing, the theft tried to sell the Mona Lisa to the directors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and was caught.
Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck and face glow in the same light that models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles. Leonardo referred to a seemingly simple formula for seated female figure: the images of seated Madonna, which were widespread at the time. He effectively modified this formula in order to create the visual impression of distance between the sitter and the observer. The armrest of the chair functions as a dividing element between Mona Lisa and the viewer.
The woman sits markedly upright with her arms folded, which is also a sign of her reserved posture. Only her gaze is fixed on the observer and seems to welcome them to this silent communication. Since the brightly lit face is practically framed with various much darker elements (hair, veil, shadows), the observer’s attraction to it is brought to even greater extent. The woman appears alive to an unusual measure, which Leonardo achieved by his new method not to draw the outlines, “mainly in two features: the corners of the mouth, and the corners of the eyes” (Gombrich), as firmly as that had been the use, before (sfumato). There is no indication of an intimate dialogue between the woman and the observer as is the case in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (Louvre) painted by Raphael about ten years later, and undoubtedly influenced by the work.
The painting was among the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use aerial perspective. The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. Behind her a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The sensuous curves of the woman’s hair and clothing are echoed in the undulating imaginary valleys and rivers behind her. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo’s style. Owing to the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape it is arguable whether Mona Lisa should be considered as a traditional portrait, for it represents an ideal rather than a real woman. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter’s faint smile—reflects the idea of a link connecting humanity and nature.
Mona Lisa has no clearly visible eyebrows or eyelashes. Some researchers claim that it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck these hairs, as they were considered unsightly. In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte announced that his ultra high resolution scans of the painting provide evidence that Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes and with better visible eyebrows, but that these had gradually disappeared over time, perhaps as a result of over-cleaning. For modern viewers the nearly missing eyebrows add to the slightly abstract quality of the face.
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