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Leonardo da Vinci's
The Last Supper
LEONARDO DA VINCI'S MONA LISA
Portrait of Mona Lisa (1479-1528), also known as La Gioconda,
the wife of Francesco del Giocondo; 1503-06 (150 Kb); Oil on wood, 77 x 53
cm (30 x 20 7/8 in); Musee du Louvre, Paris
This figure of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day and seated
in a visionary, mountainous landscape, is a remarkable instance of Leonardo's
sfumato technique of soft, heavily shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's enigmatic
expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal
What strikes us first is the amazing degree to which Lisa
looks alive. She really seems to look at us and to have a mind of her own.
Like a living being, she seems to change before our eyes and to look a little
different every time we come back to her. Even in photographs of the picture
we experience this strange effect, but in front of the original in the Louvre
it is almost uncanny. Sometimes she seems to mock at us, and then again we
seem to catch something like sadness in her smile.
The work should probably be dated during Leonardo's second
Florentine period, that is between 1503 and 1505. Leonardo himself loved the
portrait, so much so that he always carried it with him until eventually in
France it was sold to François I, either by Leonardo or by Melzi.
From the beginning it was greatly admired and much copied, and it came to
be considered the prototype of the Renaissance portrait. It became even more
famous in 1911, when it was stolen from the Salon Carré in the Louvre,
being rediscovered in a hotel in Florence two years later. It is difficult
to discuss such a work briefly because of the complex stylistic motifs which
are part of it. In the essay ``On the perfect beauty of a woman'', by the
16th-century writer Firenzuola, we learn that the slight opening of the lips
at the corners of the mouth was considered in that period a sign of elegance.
Thus Mona Lisa has that slight smile which enters into the gentle, delicate
atmosphere pervading the whole painting. To achieve this effect, Leonardo
uses the sfumato technique, a gradual dissolving of the forms themselves,
continuous interaction between light and shade and an uncertain sense of the
time of day.