Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1517)

In 1503 Francesco de Giocondo makes an order for a portrait of his wife from the greatest painter of the time, Leonardo da Vinci. Giocondo makes this demand to demonstrate his gratitude towards his wife, having blessed him with two healthy male heirs. Master da Vinci will never deliver the portrait. Rather, he finishes the painting for himself, and keeps it until his death.

Pintura è cosa mentale

The famous phrase said by Leonardo da Vinci; painting is a mental thing. Understanding the Mona Lisa is no simple task. Every detail on the painting serves a specific purpose. This complexity deems it simply too intricate a work to comprehend through sight alone. But firstly, what can we see? She is sitting in a loggia, an Italian exterior gallery of sorts, turning her back to a seemingly distant landscape. She appears to be seated on what we can guess is a chair (given the visible armrest under her left arm). If we observe this distant landscape, we notice there are no buildings, cultivated fields or any other trace of human life. All we see is a bridge.

Although beautiful, this landscape is also extremely incoherent. Simply put, it makes no rational sense. The Lake on the left is very low and does not continue as it should into the right side of the painting, where we see another lake far in the distance, high up in the mountains. Furthermore, you can see that the horizon lines do not match. Now, let us observe how she sits. For example, notice how close she is to us. There is no space between her and us, her admirers. Her posture is turned towards the room with her famous eyes staring onwards, wherever we may stand in the room. Finally; her smile – the key to understanding this painting. All of the changes in this landscape occur behind her smile. Notice how it gently rises towards the right side of the painting. This is where all visual leads end. However, to understand this further we must read into the enigma that is Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci, like most of his time, saw in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ a great wealth of knowledge, a fundamental contribution to philosophy. An idea common to both da Vinci and the text is that all beauty is ephemeral. This is where the true genius of Leonardo da Vinci flows through his portrait. The Mona Lisa is beauty, the beauty of a smile. Just like beauty however, a smile only exists in a transitory moment in time. Her smile here thus serves as a pause, a bridge, in the chaotic and incoherent landscape (or world) that frames it, and will consume it as time goes by.

Perhaps, the greatest mystery behind this masterpiece is why Leonardo decided to keep the portrait. Especially at a time where Master da Vinci needed money. Perhaps there’s a far more personal dimension to that smile we will never truly comprehend?

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