- Mona Lisa
/moh"neuh lee"seuh, lee"zeuh/(Italian, La Gioconda), a portrait (1503?-05?) by Leonardo da Vinci.
* * *▪ painting by Leonardo da VinciIntroductionoil painting on a poplar wood panel by the Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer Leonardo da Vinci, probably the world's most famous painting. It was painted sometime between 1503 and 1506, when da Vinci was living in Florence, and it now hangs in the Louvre (Louvre Museum), in Paris, where it remains an object of pilgrimage in the 21st century. The poplar panel shows evidence of warping and was stabilized in 1951 with the addition of an oak frame and in 1970 with four vertical braces. Dovetails also were added, to prevent the widening of a small crack visible near the centre of the upper edge of the painting.The Mona Lisa and its influenceThese signs of aging distract little from the painting's effect. In its exquisite synthesis of sitter and landscape, the Mona Lisa set the standard for all future portraits. The painting presents a woman revealed in the 21st century to have been Lisa del Giocondo (née Gherardini), the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo, hence the alternative title to the work, La Gioconda. The picture is a half-body portrait, which has as a backdrop a distant landscape. Yet this simple description of a seemingly standard composition gives little sense of Leonardo's achievement. The sensuous curves of the sitter's hair and clothing, created through sfumato (use of fine shading), are echoed in the shapes of the valleys and rivers behind her. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects Leonardo's idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo's vision.The influence of the Mona Lisa on the Renaissance and later times has been enormous. The Mona Lisa revolutionized contemporary portrait painting. Leonardo's preliminary drawings encouraged other artists to make more and freer studies for their paintings and stimulated connoisseurs to collect those drawings. Through the drawings his Milanese works were made known to the Florentines. Also, his reputation and stature as an artist and thinker spread to his fellow artists and assured for them a freedom of action and thought similar to his own. One such painter was the young Raphael, who sketched Leonardo's work in progress and adopted the Mona Lisa format for his portraits; it served as a clear model for his Portrait of Maddalena Doni (c. 1506).Leonardo even influenced the fashion in which artists dressed their subjects. In his Treatise on Painting, published long after his death, he wrote that art should avoid the fashion:As far as possible avoid the costumes of your own day.…Costumes of our period should not be depicted unless it be on tombstones, so that we may be spared being laughed at by our successors for the mad fashions of men and leave behind only things that may be admired for their dignity and beauty.The Mona Lisa demonstrates this aspect of his treatise perfectly in that La Giaconda is dressed in a coloured shift, loosely pleated at the neck, instead of the tight clothes that were then popular.Other Mona LisasAt least a dozen excellent replicas of the Mona Lisa exist, many of them by the master's students. The proliferation of Mona Lisas reflects, at least in part, the subject's almost immediate embodiment of the ideal woman—beautiful, enigmatic, receptive, and still just out of reach.Over the centuries this quintessential woman has taken on a new life in popular culture. In the 20th century alone, her iconic status was mocked in schoolboy fashion—the addition of a mustache and goatee to a postcard reproduction—in Marcel Duchamp (Duchamp, Marcel)'s readymade, L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). His irreverent defacing of this best known of iconic paintings expressed the Dadaists (Dada)' scorn for the art of the past, which in their eyes was part of the infamy of a civilization that had produced the horrors of the First World War just ended. Andy Warhol (Warhol, Andy) too took aim at the painting's status, in his 1963 serigraph Mona Lisa.Mona Lisa off the wallReferences in the visual arts have been complemented by musical examinations. La Giaconda's personality and quirks were examined in a 1915 opera by Max von Schillings. Leonardo's portrait is also the inspiration for the classic song "Mona Lisa" by American lyricist Ray Evans and songwriter Jay Harold Livingston:Mona Lisa, Mona LisaMen have named youYou're so like the lady with the mystic smileIs it only 'cause you're lonelyThey have blamed youFor that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smileDo you smile to tempt a lover, Mona LisaOr is this your way to hide a broken heartMany dreams have been brought to your doorstepThey just lie there, and they die thereAre you warm, are you real, Mona LisaOr just a cold and lonely, lovely work of artIt was famously recorded in 1950 by the jazz pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole (Cole, Nat King) and later by his daughter Natalie (Cole, Natalie), as well as many others.There have been films, notably Mona Lisa (1986), and several novels, including William Gibson (Gibson, William)'s cyberpunk Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) and Canadian novelist Rachel Wyatt's Mona Lisa Smiled a Little (1999), linked to the painting. The Argentine writer Martín Caparrós's novel Valfierno (2004) brings to life the man who masterminded the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.Both fine art and kitsch continue to refer to Leonardo's portrait of a merchant's wife. Bath towels, tapestries, umbrellas, and many other household items bear her image, and that image is reproduced using everything from train tickets to rice plants. Five centuries after its creation, the Mona Lisa remains a touchstone for people around the world.
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