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The Mona Lisa

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Is a smile always just a smile? This would seem to be the question that the artist who painted the “Mona Lisa” was trying to convey. The “Mona Lisa”, also referred to as the “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini”, was commissioned by an unknown person or persons around 1503 A.D. and painted by the highly revered artist Leonardo di ser Piero Da Vinci, known now as Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). Da Vinci used poplar wood for the canvas of the “Mona Lisa” and created the subtle modeling of forms and atmospheric illusionism with various shades of oil paints, diffused lighting and the usage of geometric shapes throughout his work. This hauntingly beautiful piece of art is housed at the Musee du Louvre, in Paris France, behind humidity and temperature controlled bullet proof casing due to attacks of vandalism and the ongoing attempt to maintain this piece throughout history. The painting is mostly known for the mysterious and alluring smile of a woman whose eyes seem to be hiding a secret. Is this secret the reason behind the all knowing and slightly smug appearance of the half smile on Mona Lisa’s” face, or is it a secret that can unlock the deepest depths of a woman’s femininity? This question is one that can only be answered by whoever is viewing the Donna, as she appears to look at each and everyone in a unique way.

The portrait depicts the buxom upper body of a young woman who is seated in a chair with a distant landscape that is visible in the backdrop. Installed in the painting using what is called the “Pyramid Design”, the woman is portrayed at eye level with a small distance between her and the point of view of the artist, as if you were seated near her but forced to keep at bay. This gives the viewer a feeling of allurement coming from the woman and causes your eyes to be drawn closer to hers. It is interesting to note that the woman has no facial hair of any kind including eyebrows or eyelashes, although recent scientific discovery proves that facial hair was once present but has faded over time. Her skin tone is constant soft beige and appears to be slightly shimmering under diffused light in the entire painting. She wears a small translucent black veil over the crown of her head that covers a tiny piece of her forehead and gives the appearance of modesty. Her eyes, which are indicative of a life happily lived, are almond shaped and a warm hue of hazelnut which perfectly matches the hue of her hair. Her hair, partially hidden underneath the veil, flows freely past her shoulders but stops at her bust line. She possesses a heart shaped face, plump cheeks; full peach colored lips that are turned up slightly at one corner giving the appearance of a smirk or grin, and a nose that is proportionate to her face. Overall, you could describe the woman as having a pleasant appearance. She is dressed in attire that would have been considered non aristocratic and common for her time period. The sienna colored dress, with long ruffled golden sleeves, covers the majority of her cleavage and arms, while a light brown scarf draped loosely over her shoulders make up the rest of her outfit. The woman has no jewelry or physical adornments of any kind, furthering the appearance of feminine modesty. She is shown with both hands visible; her right hand folded over her left wrist, her left arm on the chair’s rest and she seems to be subtly leaning towards the painter. Although the very top portion of the chairs’ arm rest is visible, right below this is where the painting ends.

The woman is shown seated in an open area in front of a painted backdrop with an aerial perspective, which gives the illusion that the nature scene in the backdrop is far away. Da Vinci was one of the first artists to use this method in a portrait rather than depicting a nature scene immediately behind the subject which was commonly used for renaissance style artists. The backdrop shows what appears to be a patio or awning, with large pillars made of stone or ceramic materials, overlooking a vast nature scene. This scene includes winding dirt colored pathways; some that lead you beyond the perimeters of the painting and some to a large body of water, whose depths are made apparent with the usage of light and dark colored blues. Visible in the far distance is a pre-industrial style bridge built over a canyon, plush green colored forest hillsides and white snow covered peaks on a gray mountain range. The usage of contrasting darks and lights to accentuate the curves of the woman’s neck line and collar bone is also apparent in the backdrop used to assist the viewer in understanding the distance between the woman and the scene of nature. The calming tranquility of the backdrop coupled with the calm demure elegance of the woman portrayed, gives the viewer a feeling of oneness between mankind and nature.

“Mona Lisa’s” overall appearance is one of a modest woman with no fantastic monetary wealth, but with a wealth of knowledge hidden behind a playful smirk and an oneness or knowing of herself and her surroundings’. The painting is arguably the most famous work of art ever done, partly because of the precision portrayed by Da Vinci when creating atmospheric illusionism, but mostly because of the mystery behind the woman’s grin and eyes. Looking into her eyes is almost as if looking through a window into the meaning of idealistic femininity and perhaps, if only for a moment, you will receive a return glance as well. The masterpiece is an amazing one that deserves all of the notoriety that it has received for many generations and hopefully it will continue to inspire others for many generations to come.

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