So, like, What’s the Deal with That Mona Lady, Anyway?
We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No matter what your opinion on Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, you can’t say that it’s not the most famous painting in the world. Even though it was painted in the early 16th century, it still pops up everywhere. I recently gave a presentation on how contemporary artists appropriate (uh-pro-pree-ate [verb]: the art jargon for recycling elements that already exist in the creation of a new work) Renaissance art, and I’m pretty sure I saw Mona’s face in at least a dozen works from the last thirty years. It makes sense for artists to keep throwing her face in their art, too, because her face is probably one of the most universally recognizable.
I said a minute ago that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as a whole painting is the most famous piece in the world, and that’s still true now, but the one characteristic more famous than the work itself is Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile (Julia Roberts even starred in an awful movie about it back in 2003). Although we know her for her smirk, there is so much more to appreciate about this painting! First of all, Leonardo (you can call the Renaissance “masters” by their first name) chose to depict Mona Lisa in an almost frontal view, which was pretty unusual at the time. Portraits of women were usually only done if a woman had an arranged husband out there somewhere and she or her family thought it would be a nice gesture to let him know what his bride looked like, and even then they were done strictly in profile view. It’s also worth noting that Leonardo’s Mona isn’t wearing any jewelry or other symbols of her status, which was another common motif in female portraiture.
The Mental Rules Over the Material in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
But don’t get the wrong impression. I’m not trying to negate the importance of Mona’s smile, I’m just saying that there is much more to the painting than what everybody knows. Actually, Mona’s smile represents one of the major differences between Leonardo’s portraiture style and that of his predecessors; Leonardo’s portraits focus on the psychological, not the material. That smile and the look in her eyes draws the viewer in and provokes a connection to the piece. That’s right, the Mona Lisa is trying to get into your head…that’s why her eyes follow you when you walk around the room.
So there’s one question I know I haven’t answered yet, and it’s a question on a lot of people’s minds when they look at the Mona Lisa: Who is she? Well, it’s a common subject of debate among scholars and critics, but there is a popular identification of her as Lisa del Giocondo, wife of a Florentine official. She and her husband were wealthy Renaissance-era Italians, so it only makes sense that they would be patrons of the arts as well. What better way to show off both your wealth and your love for the beautiful things in life than to commission a portrait of your lady from one of the best artists in the country?
Before I took a class centered on the Italian Renaissance, I didn’t think Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was anything special…but after a week or two of lectures on Leonardo and his methods, I have come to seriously appreciate how monumentally important and special this piece is. But I’ll be the first to say that my opinion is rarely interesting; I want to know what you think! Do you like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? Have you ever been to see it in person? I’ve never gotten a chance to go, but I’ve heard it’s actually kind of disappointing. I’d love to hear your opinions!
- Renaissance Man: The Coolest Facts About Leonardo da Vinci (painting.answers.com)
- Best Museums You Should Visit in France (artsnapper.com)
- What is “Art”?: 19th Century Realist Movement Challenges the Status Quo (artsnapper.com)
- Cubism, the Most Influential Art Movement of the 20th Century (artsnapper.com)