Demystifying the Mona Lisa

Demystifying the Mona Lisa



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We live in a culture that is so saturated with images, it may be difficult to imagine a time when only the wealthiest people had their likeness captured. The weathy merchents of Renaissance Florence could commission a portrait, but even they would likely only have a single portrait painted during their lifetime. A portrait was about more than likeness, it spoke to status and position. In addition, portraits generally took a long time to paint, and the subject would commonly have to sit for hours or days, while the artist captured their likeness.

Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa was originally this type of portrait, but over time its meaning has shifted and it has become an icon of the Renaissance, the most recognized painting in the world. The Mona Lisa is a likely a portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant, and so her gaze would have been meant for her husband. For some reason however, the portrait was never delivered to its patron, and Leonardo kept it with him when he went to work for Francis I, the King of France.

The Mona Lisa‘s mysterious smile has inspired many writers, singers, and painters. Here’s a passage about the Mona Lisa, written by the Victorian-era writer Walter Pater:

We all know the face and hands of the figure, set in its marble chair, in that circle of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea. Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least. The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world are come,” and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed!

Figure 2. Piero della Francesca, Portrait of Battista Sforza (c. 1465–66)

Early Renaissance artist, Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of Battista Sforza (figure 2) is typical of portraits during the Early Renaissance (before Leonardo) figures were often painted in strict profile, and cut off at the bust. Often the figure was posed in front of a birds-eye view of a landscape.


Mona Lisa mystery #2: The hidden initials

/>Great Secrets of History © 2012 Reader's Digest

In 2010, Silvano Vinceti, chairman of Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, claimed to have discerned letters minutely painted on Mona Lisa’s eyes: L and V (Leonardo da Vinci’s initials) in the right eye, and perhaps C, E or B in the left. The Louvre responded that Vinceti’s letters were simply microscopic cracks in the paint.


Lisa del Giocondo

Lisa del Giocondo
“Mona Lisa”
1479 – 1542 A.D.

Lisa Del Giocondo, a beautiful woman of Florence, whose portrait, the “Mona Lisa” of Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the famous pictures of the world. Her maiden name, de’ Gherardini was that of an ancient, noble family of Forentines, though she was born in Naples, where she lived as a girl. In 1495 she married a wealthy Florentine merchant, Ser Francesko del Giocondo, and during the rest of her life, as far as is known, she lived in Florence. She seems to have been a happy wife and mother, but of her later years there is no record.

It was probably the first year of her marriage that she met the great artist, and a friendship began which grew into a platonic affection, and about which many writers have woven the charm of romance. Physically, morally and intellectually, Mona Lisa appealed to Leonardo as no other woman had ever done her painted her again and again, and how mightily she influenced his work is manifest, for all his chiefest pictures reproduce something of her personality. The Mona Lisa smile greets the one everywhere in Northern Italy where the works of Leonardo and his pupils are to be seen she set a fashion in vitality and subtlety of expression absolutely unrivalled.

In 1516 Leonardo da Vinci went to France, to the court of Francis I, who cordially welcomed him, and loaded him with honours. The artist brought with him the portrait, “Mona Lisa,” for which the king paid him £4,000, an immense sum in those days. Three years later Leonardo died, while his famous “Mona Lisa” remained in Fontainebleau for more than a century until Louis XIV took her to Versailles. After the Revolution the painting with “the irresistible, enigmatic smile” found its final resting place on the walls of the Lourve.

In 1910, the artistic world was shocked by the news that the “Mona Lisa” had been stolen, but after a disappearance of several months, it was mysteriously returned, and it now hangs as of old, one of the chief ornaments of the Lourve, and one of the most precious pictures in France.

The “Romance of Leonardo da Vinci” by Dimitri Merejkowski presents a vivid portrait of Mona Lisa.

Reference: Famous Women An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.


People Won’t Stop Demanding The Mona Lisa To Be Cleaned, So Someone Just Explained What Would Happen

Giedrė Vaičiulaitytė
Community member

From rust being washed off some old pots to dirt removed from crevices between tiles, watching something return to its previous state is oddly satisfying and art pieces are no exception to that principle.

Not too long ago we shared a video of art expert Philip Mould removing the old varnish off a 400-year-old painting, which since then has gone viral. The fascinating process of painting restoration garnered attention on Tumblr where people were quick to demand the same thing to be done to Leonardo Da Vinci&rsquos famous &lsquoMona Lisa.&rsquo A tempting idea, especially after seeing how beautiful the &lsquoWoman In Red&rsquo looked after Mould&rsquos treatment. In fact, some restoration work was done in 1809 on the original Mona Lisa, and that&rsquos why it looks so &lsquowashed out&rsquo as some layers of paint were removed during the process.

A Tumblr user named Eleanor quickly explained what would happen if someone tried to restore the famous painting to its original state. From introducing us to Leonardo&rsquos painting techniques to the whole process of oil painting conservation, Eleanor explained why the restoration wouldn&rsquot be worth the risk.


Hidden literary references discovered in the Mona Lisa

Queen's University Classics professor emeritus Ross Kilpatrick believes the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, incorporates images inspired by the Roman poet Horace and Florentine poet Petrarch. The technique of taking a passage from literature and incorporating it into a work of art is known as 'invention' and was used by many Renaissance artists.

"The composition of the Mona Lisa is striking. Why does Leonardo have an attractive woman sitting on a balcony, while in the background there is an entirely different world that is vast and barren?" says Dr. Kilpatrick. "What is the artist trying to say?"

Dr. Kilpatrick believes Leonardo is alluding to Horace's Ode 1. 22 (Integer vitae) and two sonnets by Petrarch (Canzoniere CXLV, CLIX). Like the Mona Lisa, those three poems celebrate a devotion to a smiling young woman, with vows to love and follow the woman anywhere in the world, from damp mountains to arid deserts. The regions mentioned by Horace and Petrarch are similar to the background of the Mona Lisa.

Both poets were read when Leonardo painted the picture in the early 1500s. Leonardo was familiar with the works of Petrarch and Horace, and the bridge seen in the background of the Mona Lisa has been identified as the same one from Petrarch's hometown of Arezzo.

"The Mona Lisa was made at a time when great literature was well known. It was quoted, referenced and celebrated," says Dr. Kilpatrick.

Dr. Kilpatrick has been looking at literary references in art for the past 20 years. He has recently found references to the mythical wedding of Greek gods Ariadne and Dionysus in Gustav Klimt's famous painting The Kiss.

Dr. Kilpatrick's Mona Lisa findings have now been published in the Italian journal MEDICEA.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Queen's University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Leonardo, Mona Lisa

We live in a culture that is so saturated with images, it may be difficult to imagine a time when only the wealthiest people had their likeness captured. The wealthy merchants of Renaissance Florence could commission a portrait, but even they would likely only have a single portrait painted during their lifetime. A portrait was about more than likeness, it spoke to status and position. In addition, portraits generally took a long time to paint, and the subject would commonly have to sit for hours or days, while the artist captured their likeness.

The most recognized painting in the world

Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini (known as the Mona Lisa), c. 1503–19, oil on poplar panel, 77 x 53 cm (Musée du Louvre)

The Mona Lisa was originally this type of portrait, but over time its meaning has shifted and it has become an icon of the Renaissance—perhaps the most recognized painting in the world. The Mona Lisa is a likely a portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant. For some reason however, the portrait was never delivered to its patron, and Leonardo kept it with him when he went to work for Francis I, the King of France.

The Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile has inspired many writers, singers, and painters. Here’s a passage about the Mona Lisa, written by the Victorian-era writer Walter Pater:

We all know the face and hands of the figure, set in its marble chair, in that circle of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea. Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least. The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world are come,” and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed!

Piero della Francesca, Portrait of Battista Sforza, c. 1465-66, tempera on panel, (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) (photo: public domain)

Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of Battista Sforza (c. 1465-66) is typical of portraits during the Early Renaissance (before Leonardo) figures were often painted in strict profile, and cut off at the bust. Often the figure was posed in front of a birds-eye view of a landscape.

A new formula

With Leonardo’s portrait, the face is nearly frontal, the shoulders are turned three-quarters toward the viewer, and the hands are included in the image.

Leonardo uses his characteristic sfumato—a smokey haziness, to soften outlines and create an atmospheric effect around the figure. When a figure is in profile, we have no real sense of who she is, and there is no sense of engagement. With the face turned toward us, however, we get a sense of the personality of the sitter.

Hans Memling, Portrait of a Young Man at Prayer, c. 1485-1494, oil on oak panel (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

Northern Renaissance artists such as Hans Memling (see the Portrait of a Young Man at Prayer, c. 1485-1494, left) had already created portraits of figures in positions similar to the Mona Lisa. Memling had even located them in believable spaces. Leonardo combined these Northern innovations with Italian painting’s understanding of the three dimensionality of the body and the perspectival treatment of the surrounding space.

A recent discovery

An important copy of the Mona Lisa was recently discovered in the collection of the Prado in Madrid. The background had been painted over, but when the painting was cleaned, scientific analysis revealed that the copy was likely painted by another artist who sat beside Leonardo and copied his work, brush-stroke by brush-stroke. The copy gives us an idea of what the Mona Lisa might look like if layers of yellowed varnish were removed.

Left: Unknown, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-05, oil on panel (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) right: Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-19, oil on panel 30-1/4 x 21″ (Musée du Louvre)

Additional resources:

Theresa Flanigan, “Mona Lisa’s Smile: Interpreting Emotion in Renaissance Female Portraits,” Studies in Iconography, vol. 40, 2019, pp. 183-230.


Demystifying the Mona Lisa - HISTORY

The Mona Lisa is quite possibly the most well-known piece of painted artwork in the entire world. It was painted by the Leonardo Da Vinci, the famous Italian artist, between 1504 and 1519, and is a half body commission for a woman named Lisa Gherardini. Her husband, Francesco Del Giocondo requested the work by Da Vinci just after the turn of the century. It is perhaps the most studied piece of artwork ever known. The subject’s facial expression has brought about a source of debate for centuries, as her face remains largely enigmatic in the portrait. Originally commissioned in Italy, it is now at home in the French Republic, and hangs on display in the Louvre in Paris.

Background

The work was requested by subject’s husband, Francesco Del Giocondo. Lisa was from a well-known family known through Tuscany and Florence and married to Francesco Del Giocondo who was a very wealthy silk merchant. The work was to celebrate their home’s completion, as well as a celebration of the birth of their second son. Not until 2005 was the identity of Mona Lisa‘s subject fully understood, though years of speculation have suggested the true identity of the painting’s subject.

Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa is famous for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons, of course, for the popularity of the painting is the artist himself. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the most recognized artist in the world. Not only was Da Vinci an artist, but he was also a scientist, inventor, and a doctor. His study of the human form came from the study of actual human cadavers.

Because of his ability to study from the actual form of the human, he was able to draw and paint it more accurately than any other artist of his time. While the Mona Lisa may be revered as the greatest piece of artwork of all time, Da Vinci was known more for his ability to draw than to paint. Currently there are only a handful of paintings of Da Vinci’s, mostly because of his largely experimental style of art, and his habit of procrastination. Among his most famous sketches is the Vitruvian Man, which anybody who has ever studied anatomy, human biology, or art knows very well.

But most prominently Da Vinci has been known throughout the centuries as a scientist and inventor. Amongst his ideas were a rudimentary helicopter and a tank. Some of his more notable paintings include the Mona Lisa, of course, as well as The Last Supper. He used a variety of different surfaces to paint on, attributing to a lot of his failures (and a lot of his successes) as a painter. Many of his paintings are biblical in nature, but as his talent and notoriety grew, he was commissioned more regularly for portraits.

Techniques Applied

The Mona Lisa is an oil painting, with a cottonwood panel as the surface. It is unusual in that most paintings are commissioned as oil on canvas, but the cottonwood panel is part of what has attributed to the fame of the painting. Because of the medium used for the image, the Mona Lisa has survived for six centuries without ever having been restored–a trait very unusual when considering the time period of the piece.

While most of the artwork of the Renaissance period depicts biblical scenes, it was the style and technique of the paintings of this period which make them distinguished from other eras of artwork. Anatomically correct features are one of the identifiable marks of this period of history in art, and the Mona Lisa stands out amongst the great paintings for the detail in her hands, eyes, and lips. Da Vinci used a shadowing technique at the corners of her lips as well as the corners of her eyes which give her an extremely lifelike appearance and look of amusement. Her portrait is such that to an observer, they are standing right before Lisa Del Giocondo, with the arms of her chair as the barrier between the observer and the subject of the painting.

Da Vinci also created a background with aerial views and a beautiful landscape, but muted from the vibrant lightness of the subject’s face and hands. The technique Da Vinci used in executing the painting left behind no visible brush marks, something that was said to make any master painter lose heart. It is truly a masterpiece.

Theft

The Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre in France in 1911. Pablo Picasso was on the original list of suspects questioned and jailed for the theft, but he was later exonerated. For two years, the masterpiece was thought to be forever lost. However in 1913, Italian patriot Vincenzo Perugia was arrested for the crime of stealing the famous painting, and the original artwork returned to its home at the Louvre in Paris. Perugia was an employee of the Louvre at the time, and he believed the painting belonged to Italy. For two years he kept the famous piece of art housed in his apartment, but was discovered when he tried selling to a gallery in Florence, Italy.

Vandalism

Over the centuries, the famous painting has withstood attempts at vandalism as well. The first occurrence of vandalism was in 1956 when somebody threw acid at the bottom half, severely damaging the timeless masterpiece. That same year, another vandal threw a rock at the work, removing a chip of paint from near her elbow. It was later painted over. Afterwards, the piece was put under bulletproof glass as a means of protection has kept the painting from further attempts at vandalism and destruction.

This painting has long been caricaturized in cartoons, has been replicated all over the world, and has been studied by scholars and art enthusiasts alike. The painting is the most widely recognized work of art in the entire world. The oil on cottonwood panel commission of Francesco del Giocondo’s used such precise detail to give an unbelievably lifelike appearance to the painting’s subject. This piece of Renaissance artwork completely changed the techniques and style of painting, and is revered around the world as the greatest masterpiece of all time.


The History of the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, one of the most recognised and copied.

It currently hangs in the Louvre, where it is believed that 80% of the 10.2 million visitors go specifically to view the masterpiece. Brewminate suggest it was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519, and it is Leonardo Da Vinci’s seminal work that set a standard for artists that have come since.

The perspective might not seem unique today, but it set a precedent that many portrait artists began to adopt. The sitter’s position mostly turns toward the viewer, which broke convention in Italian art at the time. Now, it is the most commonly used portrait profile, which only adds to the paintings allure and influence.

The identity of the subject is widely debated, with one theory being that it is a self-portrait, but with Da Vinci disguising himself as a woman. Another popular train of thought is that it is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Sigmund Freud believed that the subject was in fact the artist’s mother, Caterina.

After emerging from his studio in 1519, the painting passed to King Francis I of France, in whose court Da Vinci spent the latter years of his life. For centuries, it remained in French palaces, on display only for kings and queens, but was claimed by the people during the French Revolution between 1787 and 1799. After a short stint on Napoleon’s bedroom wall, it found its way into the Louvre at the turn of the 19th century, where it has remained ever since.

Or rather, where it has almost remained ever since. In 1911, the painting was stolen from the gallery causing a media sensation. People even visited the gallery to see the space where the great masterpiece had once hung – such was the furore. The museum’s director of paintings resigned and some famous names were linked with the theft. The poet French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested, as was Pablo Picasso. Gala Bingo explain how the famous surrealist was strongly suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa, but both were false leads which failed to result in the painting being returned.

Indeed, it was two years later that a Florence art dealer reported a man had tried to sell him the painting, leading to its discovery in a trunk belonging to Vincenzo Peruggia. He was arrested and imprisoned and the Mona Lisa went on a brief tour of Italy before returning home to France, where she has remained ever since.

During World War II, she went on another tour, this time of the French countryside. Having been singled out as the most-endangered piece of art in the Louvre, the painting was spirited away and hidden in various locations to prevent destruction or capture. In 1945 she adorned the walls of the Louvre once more, but has toured New York, Washington, Tokyo and Moscow in more recent times.

The painting has been analysed using modern techniques in recent years, revealing a sketch underneath which was likely used by Da Vinci to create the painting. Others believe there are two works of art under the Mona Lisa, both of which were unfinished.

The allure and attraction of the painting continues to thrill and excite today, and it is well worth a visit if you do intend to add the Louvre to your next Paris itinerary.


A ‘Mona Lisa’ Replica Beloved by Collector Raymond Hekking is Going Up for Auction

The Mona Lisa has been one of the most famous paintings in the world for hundreds of years now because of the mystique surrounding its theft, but interestingly, there have also been copies made of the painting that are almost as illustrious. In June, Christie’s Paris will offer for sale Hekking’s Mona Lisa, a replica of the original that was acquired by its mercurial collector from an antique dealer in a small village near Nice. Because of the painting’s unique history and collector Raymond Hekking’s particular zest and enthusiasm for it, Hekking’s Mona Lisa is anticipated to sell for between €200,000 and €300,000.

Raymond Hekking, the collector in question, devoted an enormous amount of energy to attempting to prove, extraordinarily, that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre was not the original, and that he possessed the authentic version. Hekking managed to draw the attention of the international media with this theory, and he also directly challenged the Louvre with the theory that after the Mona Lisa was stolen from the museum in 1911 by Vincenzo Perugia, the restitution of the authentic work should therefore be called into question.

“Art challenges, fascinates, sometimes obsesses,” Pierre Etienne, the International Director of Old Master Paintings at Christie’s, said in a statement. “Hekking’s Mona Lisa that we are pleased to present bears the name of its owner and inventor, Mr Raymond Hekking (1886-1977). She is the perfect illustration of the fascination the Mona Lisa has always inspired and which she exerts more and more. She is the dream of a man with a passion for art. She is his Ideal. Raymond Hekking was her staunch defender among art historians and the world’s media in the 1960s. She will be his Muse, he will be her Poet.”

Several copies of the Mona Lisa have been made throughout history one of the most famous, which was purportedly made in da Vinci’s studio by one of his students, resides at Madrid’s Prado museum. However, Hekking’s particular zeal for his canvas epitomizes the old adage that beauty (and value) is in the eye of the beholder.

New on the Block is a series that looks at the most notable or unusual items to go up for auction each week.


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