Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci created Mona Lisa in the 16th century. It is often called La Joconde or La Gioconda. Nowadays this work of art is exhibited in Paris, in the Musee du Louvre and is the property of the French government. Mona Lisa can be definitely called one of the most well-known paintings in the modern world and is the centre of numerous religious, artistic and theoretical debated for many centuries.
The discussions appear around the secret nature of the enigmatic smile of the depicted woman and the coloring technique da Vinci used. It seems like the woman from the canvas is attentively watching those who look at her. Her gaze is omnipresent and it follows the person who moves in the room without breaking the eye-contact with her. There are many ideas about the nature and the reason of this mysterious smile. Some people think that the artist painted himself in the feminine role. Others search for secret messages the smile of the woman conveys and implied layers of meaning. In my opinion, Mona Lisa is a metaphor for Mother Nature, who is simple, calm and divine, and the way she looks at her sons and daughters. There are numerous issues that support this idea, in addition no one know for sure what the real message of the painting is.
The artistic technique used by da Vinci was revolutionary for his time. He did not outline the images in his paintings as the artists of the Florentine school did. He used the transitions that were impossible to see, creating this needed effect with light and shadow details. His brushstrokes can not be perceived by the naked eye. It seems like all the colors are mixed in the smoke and this creates the atmosphere of the mild natural harmony.
It is necessary to describe the historical context to which this work of art belongs. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most outstanding figures in Italian Renaissance. He was not only the artist, but also a geologist, a botanist, an anatomist, an inventor, a mathematician, an architect, a musician and a sculptor. He can be called the ideal Renaissance man, because he had free imagination, the desire to understand the world from scientific point of view and great curiosity. The Renaissance age was the time of great geographic discoveries, of the cult of human mind and science. The European culture stepped out from the dark Middle Ages and understood that the science, not the religion, will lead to the progress. People discovered new places, traveled across the ocean and saw the plants, the animals and the other wonders of the nature they have never seen before. During that time, the mankind understood how little they know about the planet they are living on.
Dogra describes the main characteristics of the Renaissance art in the following way:
“The artists advocated the philosophy of Humanism through their art works. Humanists believed that humanity is unparalleled, as it connects the mortal world with the spiritual world. Human welfare and human values like secularism were heavily promoted. People began to focus on self-improvement and started doing things according to their likings. The Renaissance paintings depicted people studying Philosophy and Mathematics, rather than worshiping, as was the trend in the medieval art. There was a focus on painting human anatomy” (Dogra 2011).
The detailed look at Mona Lisa shows how much attention da Vince paid to the depiction of nature in the background. The blue mountains in the distance are crossed by small rivers. However, the nature is not the same in the left and in the right parts of the canvas. There is the bridge across the river in the left part, which is certainly a man-made construction.
The similar background can be found in another da Vinci painting, Sainte Anne. An interesting thing is that on that painting Sainte Anne, her daughter Mary and the Christ are depicted, but Mona Lisa is not a holy person at all. She is considered to be the mother of two children and be just an ordinary woman. Despite this distinction, da Vinci painted these two absolutely different women on the similar background. That makes me think that Mona Lisa was not considered by the artist as an average woman and she has another metaphorical meaning, for example, the personification of the Nature.
The archetype of the Great Mother Nature is well-known in the world’s culture. From the ancient times people considered the nature to be a woman, who gives birth to the living beings. The primitive cultures depicted it in simple stone sculptures that reminded the pregnant woman. However, da Vinci was the artist of the Renaissance age, when the level of culture seriously increased in comparison to the old times. His image of Mother Nature is a representation of the ideal mother in that period of time. She is calm, loving and has caring eyes. Mona Lisa is painted in brownish and grayish colors, so that she can not be distinguished from the background. It seems like the woman herself is the nature, and the mountains in the background are just her shadows, a meaningless projection of the divine idea. In addition, her outfit refers to birth giving.
According to Mottin, the dress Mona Lisa wore was usual for pregnant women in the 16th century in Italy. He also writes:
“While the “Mona Lisa” has become famous for the sitter’s calm, some say enigmatic, smile, it appears that the composition was not always so restful. For example, the new images show that at one point one of her hands was painted in a clenched rather than a relaxed position. It was as if she was going to get up from a chair” (Austen 2006).
Mona Lisa is like the Mother Nature, who is waiting for her children to grow up. She is watching the mankind and its progress with calm happiness, her eyes and lips smile slightly. Though, in the initial project of da Vinci, where the woman was painted with hands in motion, the Mother Nature was always ready to stand up and react to the actions of her children. The nature in the background of the picture show the dualism, that was still present in the times da Vinci. From one side, there were many places in the world that were remained untouched by humans. From other side, the mankind develops technologies rapidly and multiple artificial constructions appear every day, like the bridge in the painting.
Mona Lisa has become one of the most popular images of the modern mass culture. The painting is altered in graphical programs, changing the meaning da Vinci wanted to convey to the audience. Even though no one knows for sure what that message was, it is possible to suppose how contemporary Mona Lisa might look like if she was a personification of Mother Nature. Perhaps, she would not be smiling anymore and her eyes will be wet and red from crying. The human beings have not just changed the planet with the help of technological progress. They managed to harm it many times, causing natural catastrophes like tsunamis and earthquakes. Chances are that Mother Nature will not be surrounded by mountains and rivers, but it will be covered by sphere, suffering from a greenhouse effect inside.
Austen, I. New look at ‘Mona Lisa’ yields some new secrets. The New York Times. 2006. Web. 18 November 2013.
Dogra, A. Renaissance art characteristics. 2011. Web. 18 November 2013.