The Technique Behind Mona Lisa

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The art of the Renaissance was influenced by both ancient Greek and Roman culture as well as the humanism movement. The subjects of works of art were no longer limited to royal and religious figures, nor were they over idealized portrayals. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa exemplifies this trend. Working with the new medium of oil and his mastery of light, contrast, and sfumato, da Vinci created the most famous painting in the world; a work where subject and background compliment each other to form a perfect union.

One of the aspects that make the Mona Lisa such a masterpiece is da Vinci’s use of oil as a medium. As the movie The Mystery of Jon van Eyck explains, the use of oil as a medium was not widely used for painting until van Eyck refined it “by adding transparent colors in several thin glazes upon a white ground, creating a wholly new translucence as if lit from within.” Da Vinci, like other painters of the Renaissance, used van Eyck’s oil painting technique to bring lifelike qualities to their works. According to Time-Life writer Robert Wallace, using oil opened up a new world of creative possibility for da Vanci. Oil could create nuances of effect that the widely used egg tempera could not. Additionally, the sharp and obvious transitions between colors in tempera could be rendered obsolete using oil(29). Da Vinci's mastery of the new oil medium is apparent in Mona Lisa. Evidence of this lies in the claim by Leonardo da Vinci scholar Marani Pietro that Mona Lisa is “the sum of Leonardo's extraordinary abilities”(183). Da Vinci created Mona Lisa on poplar wood using a series of thin, semi-transparent, overlapping glazes. The thin glazes allow the underlying base of dark gesso to show through. Da Vinci blends the light and dark shades of his painting seamlessly; there are no harsh lines or edges and each feature melts into the next. This technique, sfumato, perfected by da Vinci, coupled with the dark undertones of the base and the multiple layers of...
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