These nine drawings were done by an artist under the influence of LSD, as part of a test conducted by the US government during the 1950’s. The government was keen to learn of any potentially beneficial effects that these new synthetic drugs may have, and how such effects could be used. Their primary hope was to be able to use LSD as a truth serum, using the patient’s altered sense of reality to overcome any conscious guards.

 

The artist was to be given a dose of LSD 25, and free access to an activity box full of crayons, paints and pencils. His subject throughout is the doctor administering the drugs. The first drawing is done 20 minutes after the patient has received the first dose (50μg). The attending doctor observes that the patient starts drawing with charcoal. The artist explains “Condition normal , no effect from the drug yet.”

 

85 minutes after the first dose and 20 minutes after a second dose has been administered (100μg total). The doctor notes that the patient seems euphoric.

“I can see you clearly, so clearly. This…. you…. it’s all… I’m having a little trouble controlling this pencil. It seems to want to keep going.”

 

2 hours and 30 minutes after the first dose. Patient appears very focused on the business of drawing.

“Outlines seem normal, but very vivid. Everything is changing color. My hand must follow the bold sweep of the lines. I feel as if my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s now active… my hand… my elbow… my tongue”

 

2 hours and 32 minutes after first dose. Patient seems gripped by his pad of paper.

“I’m trying another drawing. The outlines of the model are normal, but now those of my drawing are not. The outline of my hand is going weird too. It’s not a very good drawing is it? I give…I’ll try again…”

 

2 hours and 35 minutes after first dose. Patient follows quickly with another drawing.

“I’ll do a drawing in one flourish… without stopping… one line… no break”

Upon completing the drawing the patient starts laughing and then becomes alerted by something on the floor.

 

2 hours and 45 minutes after first dose. Patient tries to climb into activity box, and he is generally agitated and responds slowly to the suggestion that he might like to draw some more. He has become largely non-verbal.

“I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling.. your face… interwoven…who is…” Patient mumbles inaudibly to a tune (sounds like “Thanks for the Memory”).

He changes medium to tempera.

 

4 hours and 25 minutes after first dose. Patient retreated to the bunk, spending approximately 2 hours lying, waving his hands in the air. His return to the activity box is sudden and deliberate. He changes his medium to pen and water color.

“This will be the best drawing, like the first one, only better. If I’m not careful, I’ll loose control of my movements, but I won’t, because I know. I know.” (He continues to repeat “I know” over and over.)

 

Patient makes the last half a dozen strokes of the drawing while running back and forth across the room.

5 hours and 45 minutes after the first dose. Patient continues to move about the room, intersecting the space in complex variations. It’s an hour and a half before he settles down to draw again; he appears to be over the effects of the drug. “I can feel my knees again. I think it’s starting to wear off. This is a pretty good drawing, but the pencil is mighty hard to hold. (He is holding a crayon).

 

8 hours after first dose Patient sits on bunk bed.He reports the intoxication has worn off, expect for the occasional distorting of faces. We ask for a final drawing, which he performs with little enthusiasm. “I have nothing to say about this last drawing. It is bad and uninteresting. I want to go home now.”

The civilisation of ancient Egypt was roughly contemporary with the neighbouring cultures in the ancient Near East. While the Mesopotamians were constantly subjected to enemy attacks, however, the fruitful Nile Valley was surrounded by desert and thus not easily reached by invading forces. Furthermore, unlike the politically unstable city-states of the ancient Near East, Egypt remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years under a series of pharaonic dynasties; the term “pharaoh” literally means “palace”, but it used to designate the kings of Egypt. The relatively predictable Nile floods are also in contrast with the unpredictable and violent storms and droughts of Mesopotamia. More secure in this life, Egyptians created works of art and architecture that tend to focus on the afterlife.

 

Geese. Dynasty 4, c. 1680-2500 B.C. Detail of a tomb painting from the mastaba tomb of Nefermaat at Medum. Height: 10.5″ (27cm). Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

The Egyptians spent much of their life on Earth preparing for death and the afterlife. Elaborate tombs were constructed, stocked with provisions and decorated with statues, reliefs and wall paintings. Of course, such luxurious burials were the privilege of pharaohs (kings), their families and officials only. This painting of geese comes from a mastaba, an Old Kingdom tomb form consisting of a rectangular structure of mud brick or stone surmounting an underground burial chamber. It is from the contents of tombs that we have acquired most of our knowledge of Egyptian civilisation.

An Egyptian pharaoh was worshipped as a god not only during his- or very rarely her – lifetime, but after death as well. The Egyptian vision of the afterlife required that the pharaohs, their families, and their privileged officials and attendants be supplied with all the necessities and comforts of this world in the next. Thus tombs were stocked with food, wine, clothing, jewellery, games, furniture, weapons, musical instruments and so on, to provide for the ka, or the spirit of the dead person, for all eternity. In addition, nearly every square inch of the walls and ceilings of tombs was elaborately decorated with painted reliefs, hieroglyphs (the Egyptian system of writing, which has been deciphered by modern archaeologists), and wall paintings. It is from tombs, their contents and decorative programs, that we have acquired most of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian culture; the Egyptian’s houses, even palaces and other structures, were often made of perishable materials and so have not survived. Life was short for most ancient Egyptians; their emphasis on the afterlife is revealed by their tombs, which were meant to endure, not the structures for this life.

 

Nebamun Hunting Birds. Dynasty 18, c.14000-1350 B.C. Fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun, Thebes. Height: approx 32″ x (81cm). British Museum, London

Many Egyptian tomb wall paintings replicate everyday scenes of the inhabitant’s world; pharaohs are shown hunting birds, hippopotami and other animals. Their underlings are depicted carrying out tasks such as ploughing fields and picking fruit that they performed in the service of the pharaoh and other superiors during this life. While these paintings repeated the cyclical pattern of the seasons for all eternity, others are more specifically religious in subject matter, focusing on the other world. Frequently, pharaohs are shown at the own funerary banquets, presenting offerings to gods and goddesses, and on occasion, pharaohs are portrayed in their mummified state, attended by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead.

 

Annubis, God of the Dead, Leaning over Sennutem’s Mummy. Dynasty 18. Tomb of Sennutem in the cemetery of Deir el-Medina, Luxor-Thebes, Egypt

Many images in tombs deal with death and the afterlife. In this image, Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, attends to Sennutem’s mummy. The Egyptians mummified their dead in the hope of preserving the body for eternity so that the ka, or spirit of a person which lives on after death, was provided with a body to inhabit. Mummification involved the removal of the internal organs, placement of the body and organs in a salt-based preservative for a month, or so and, finally, wrapping the body and organs in layer after layer of linen.

Two-dimensional depictions of royal figures in Egyptian art had long been standardised. Typically, pharaohs, queens and members of their families and courts are shown with heads, hips, legs, and feet in profile, while their torsos and eyes are depicted as if viewed from the front, like Mesopotamian depictions of the human form. This combination allowed for the most composite view of the human body.

 

Banquet Scene. Dynasty 18, c.1400-1350 B.C. Fragment of a wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun, Thebes. British Museum, London

Non-royal members of Egyptian society, however, are frequently portrayed in more natural poses – as are animals – and often they are shown completely in profile. Royal figures are rarely depicted exerting themselves. Their composite stance does not allow for much movement and thus they stand immobile and perfect for all eternity. In contrast, farmers, slaves – workers in general – are commonly shown in action. They pick grapes, hunt birds and plough fields quite energetically. Royal members of Egyptian society, the pharaohs in particular, thus come across as impervious to the world around them. It is important to recall that pharaohs were divine, and their impassiveness is that of transcendent beings. Regardless of class, women tend to have fairer skin, as befitting indoor people, while men, including kings, are darker-skinned from the outdoor life.

It is not the pharaoh’s individual personalities that re emphasized in painted and sculptural representations, but what might be called their “pharaoh-ness”. Pharaohs simply exist, while their attendants perform. This distinction is maintained, with some exceptions, in many of the works of art created over the course of Egypt’s ancient civilization – almost three thousand years.

 

Atum and Osiris. Dynasty 19, c. 1279-1212 B.C. Wall painting from the tomb of Nefertari (wife of Ramesses II). Valley of the Queens, near Deir el-Bahri, Egypt.

The tomb of Nefertari, wife of pharaoh Ramesses II, was discovered in 1904. It was found plundered and with much of the painted surface of the walls flaked off. These paintings, however, have been quite successfully restored. Atum (right), creator of the world, is depicted holding the ankh, the symbol of everlasting life, in his right hand. Osiris (left), ruler of the dead, holds the symbols of kingship, the crook and the flail. According to Egyptian religious belief, Osiris was violently murdered by his brother, thus accounting for his mummy-like appearance.

The discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922 by Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, resulted in some of the most important contributions to our understanding of the ancient Egyptians’ civilisation in general and their burial practices in particular. This is especially true since the tomb was found almost intact, unlike the many tombs that have suffered significant damage from plundering over the centuries. The tomb of the Boy King (ruled 1335-1327 B.C.) is a treasure trove of Egyptian art and artefacts. The back of Tutankhamen’s throne is an exquisite depiction in gold, faience, glass paste, semi-precious stones and silver of Tut and Queen Ankhesenamen, his sister-wife.

 

Tutankhamen with His Queen Ankhesenamen. Dynasty 18, c. 1355-1342 B.C.

Detail of the back of the throne of King Tutankhamen, from the tomb of Tutankhamen, Valley of the Kings. Carved wood covered with gold and inlaid with faience, glass paste, semi-precious stones and silver. Height of throne 41″ (104cm). Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Among the many luxurious items found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen is a magnificent throne, the back of which is shown here. The relaxed informality of this tender moment between King Tut and Queen Ankhesenamen is somewhat unusual in Egyptian art, but typical of this particular period in Dynasty 18. Under Tut’s predecessor, King Akhenaten, a less rigid depiction of royalty, characterised by fluid, playful lines and elegant, feminine figures, resulted in images of royal figures which were not as static, formal and idealised as were typical depictions of royalty in Egyptian art.

The two figures are depicted in a style first associated more with the reign of King Akhenaton, also known as Amenhotep IV, Tut’s predecessor, who ruled from 1352 to 1335 B.C. During Akhenaton’s reign, representations of the human form, while still displaying an emphasis on line, became more relaxed and informal, less rigid and static. The conventional broad shoulders, narrow hips, and toned musculature that we think of in depictions of pharaohs have disappeared. The curvy, fluid, playful lines and the somewhat elongated, elegant and feminine shapes of Tut and his queen are markedly different from typical Egyptian painted and sculptural representations of royalty, where the human figure is more squarely geometric, compact and stiff, giving the impression of idealised, rational, dignified and eternally existing personages – the gods they were. In contrast, the sinuous naturalism of Tut and Ankhesenamen allows them the freedom of potential movement. As a result, they seem more of our world.

Generally speaking, though, Egyptian artists had little interest in modelling or in the depiction of depth. Royal and non-royal figures alike appear very two-dimensional, made up of flat areas of colour and the frequent inclusion of hieroglyphs in the same space as the figures calls attention to the flatness of the image as a whole.

 

Sowing and Ploughing in the Fields. Dynasty 19, 13th century B. C. Tomb of Sennedjem, Thebes

Many tomb wall paintings show hunting and farming scenes meant to reflect the cycle of the seasons that will repeat for eternity. In this image, sowing and ploughing are depicted. Egyptian painters seem to have had little interest in rendering three-dimensional human forms existing in space. Painted figures are not modelled, made up instead of flat areas of colour contained by line. Background settings are often excluded and the frequent presence of hieroglyphic texts calls attention to the flatness of space. The desire for clarity seems more important to the Egyptian painter than the illusionistic rendering of space and form.

Egyptian painting is also found in the Books of the Dead. The books of ancient Egypt were actually scrolls made from papyrus, the Greek term for the plant that grows plentifully along the Nile and from which the word “paper” derives. Books of the Dead were places inside the wrappings of a mummified body on it’s coffin. Consisting of combinations of spells, prayers and other magical writings tailored to the deceased, they were intended to guide the dead person through the trails of judgement in the afterlife. Most Books of the Dead contain judgement scenes. In some, Osiris, god of the underworld, presides over a ceremony in which the dead person’s heart is weighed against an ostrich feather in order to determine whether he or she will merit eternal life.

 

Judgement in the Other World, from the Book of the Dead. 350 B.C. Papyrus. Staatliche Museen, Ehyptisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.

Egyptian Books of the Dead were actually included in the wrapping of the mummified body. These books, which were meant to aid the trials of judgement in the afterlife, were actually scrolls of papyrus. The judgement scene illustrated here is typically found in Books of the Dead. The heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather representing truth to determine the deceased’s fate. Ammit, the lion-like monster on the pedestal at the left, awaits the decision; if it is negative, he will devour the heart. The god Thoth, to the left of the scales, records the event. The deceased herself is depicted presenting her offerings before the god Osiris (god of the dead). Behind Osiris stand the goddesses Isis (wife of Osiris) and Nephtys (sister of Isis and Osiris).

Both of these artists were known to suffer from mental illness. Munch had what is now believed to be bi-polar disorder. Van Gogh suffered from paranoia, and possibly a myriad of other mental ailments, including epilepsy and absynth addiction, that the psychiatric community still debates. It is clear that they both suffered in ways which most of us are fortunate to not understand, but how did it show up in their work.

 Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh : The Starry Night – 1889

In looking at the paintings of both Munch and Van Gogh, it may be tempting to say that Munch was the more disturbed of the two. In fact, Van Gogh was an influence for Munch. He painted emotion, raw emotion. These emotions were dark and “negative” and his work had a depth of sorrow and madness to it that may be unsurpassed. On the other hand, while Van Gogh’s paintings were often somber, hey do not seem to embody the depths of sadness and despair that are seen in Munch’s work.

 The Scream

Edvard Munch : The Scream – 1898

Munch definitely has the privilege of having painted a painting that has come to symbolize our own modern feeling of despair and hopelessness. The Scream has become an icon of the world today and many people can relate to – that feeling of just wanting to scream!

His paintings were part of his therapy with his forward thinking doctors feeling that it would be beneficial for him to paint and express his feelings whilst in the asylum.

We will probably never know who had the more severe mental illness. Certainly Munch’s most likely stemmed from the fearful upbringing of his parents. His father instilled in him and his siblings the fear of eternal Hell and living in fear, especially as a child, creates deep-seated damage to the mind and soul. Van Gogh is for many the embodiment of the tortured artist. He cut off the earlobe of his left ear, an act of self-mutilation, after an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. A year later he shot himself.

 Self Portrait

Vincent Van Gogh : Self Portrait with a Bandage – 1889

It is difficult to compare mental illness, each person and their experiences are so radically different. However, it is obvious that mental illness and insanity are not enough to stop geniuses from creating masterpieces that will be with us for eternity. In a way, both Munch’s and Van Gogh’s sadness and the torture they endured will be with us for eternity as well.

In Andy Warhol’s time, no serious painter would have thought to paint such an ordinary object as a can of soup. But Warhol did. And his fame came from his ability to turn everyday objects into intriguing works of art.

There are contradicting stories published as to who gave Warhol the idea to paint soup cans. The most commonly printed version goes like this. In 1960, his friend Muriel Latow came to visit. During that time Warhol was discouraged with his work. He discovered that he was doing the same kind of modern comic strip art as another local artist Roy Lichtenstein but Roy was more successful. So, he asked Latow, who happened to own an art gallery herself, for advice. She said, “You should paint something that everybody sees everyday…like a can of soup.”

Can of Soup

Cambell’s Soup Can – 1968

He took her advice. He started making “portraits” of each of the 32 varieties of Campbell’s soups against a white background. “Tomato soup will never be just tomato soup again,” said critic Ivan Karp quoted in Warhol, By David Bourdon.

Over the next two years, he continued to paint a series of Campbell’s soup cans. Sometimes he used stencils and other times he used pencil, ink, crayons, acrylic and oil paints. He painted enormous still lifes or sad-looking soups with torn labels. Often times he multiplied the can image with the silkscreen method. One of the most famous pieces in the series is 100 Cans multiplying Beef Noodle soup 100 times.

His soup series appeared in an art gallery in the summer of 1962. But not everyone appreciated his new approach to modern art. According to Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter, by Susan Coldman Rubin, a supermarket stacked Campbell’s soup in the window with a sign that read, “the real thing for only 29 cents a can.” He used the public putdown as publicity. He took a photographer to the market and had his picture taken signing the cans of soup. The photo appeared in newspapers everywhere, according to Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, by Bob Colacello.

He went on to paint other inanimate objects in this artistic phase. He painted dollar bills, Brillo pads and Heinz ketchup boxes, and Coca-Cola bottles. “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful . . . things you use every day and never think about,” said Warhol, quoted in Victor Bockirs’ book The Life and Death of Andy Warhol. He had a way of choosing objects from American culture that have achieved a genuinely iconic status in contemporary civilization. Warhol often multiplied the images over and over on the same canvas creating the idea that his art like the objects themselves were made by a machine. Warhol even once said, “The reason I’m painting this was is that I want to be a machine.”

In 1980, Warhol declared that he wished to be remembered as a soup can, which may very well become the case. Now, his art is celebrated worldwide and shown continually in museums almost always showcasing his Campbell’s representations.

At the end of his career in 1983, The Campbell’s Soup Company hired him to create a new series of paintings of their dry soup mixes.

A reporter once asked him, “Did you ever image when you painted your first soup can, that it would become art?”

“No,” said Andy. “It’s like anything. You just work. If it happens, it happens.”

Mona Lisa smile interpretation has been a prime debate among art historians and scholars for centuries, since DaVinci first put his painting to canvas so many years ago. Theories abound and tests have been run, but still today people wonder why it was that such a simple curl of the lips could be so expressive.
The Original Theories

For many years, when asked “Why is Mona Lisa smiling?” many art historians were given to offering their own outlandish theories on the smile. It appears differently to everyone that views it and for that reason has been the source of much speculation. Largely, it was thought early on that her smile was supposed to be cloying, to draw the observer closer into observing her and her surroundings. Whether she was happy or just being ironic was always a source of much argument though, as outlined in the original biography by Vasari and his description of the smile.
Freud and the Mother Theory

Always prone to his own augmented theories on the nature of art and literature, Sigmund Freud proffered that the smile was a representation of Leonardo’s attraction to his mother. For him, “Why is the Mona Lisa smiling” was less a question and more of a psychological twist on things. Using his own Oedipus Complex theory, Freud built on the theory that the painting might be a representation of DaVinci or his mother instead of Lisa Gherardini.

This theory is further expanded in more recent books that suggest the painting might be a portrait of his mother and that the smile might be a knowing smile of sorts. Others have postulated that the smile might be similarly secretive regarding an affair DaVinci might have had with another of his possible patrons.
The Smile Itself

To best understand why everyone is so intrigued by this enigmatic smile, it’s important to know that the smile is incredibly unique as a visual stimulus. The nature of the smile, painted in Sfumato, forces the eye to adjust to it according to how you perceive it. Different angles, different people, and different focal points create different effects when viewing the painting. An Art Professor from Harvard, Margaret Livingstone outlined her theory that the smile can only be seen from a peripheral angle, usually when staring into the eyes. Other scientists, such as Christopher Tyler from Smith-Kettlewell Institute theorized that the smile is actually an example of random noise in human vision.

Regardless of the nature of the smile, it definitely appears different to different people and has a habit of extending or retracting according to who views her. The carefully painted corners of her mouth blend so seamlessly upward as to combine with the rest of her face and facilitate a perfect example of Sfumato and not just the blurring of the lines in the painting, but of the lines in our perception.
So, Why Was the Mona Lisa Smiling?

Recent science has taken many leaps and with it the development of some incredibly apt emotional recognition software has helped scientists begin the process of analyzing art’s great mysteries, including the Mona Lisa’s smile. In 2005, a team of scientists from the University of Amsterdam tried their hands at discerning exactly what the Mona Lisa’s smile means. Their software eventually came up with results that described the smile as 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, 2% angry, and less than 1% neutral. According to their research, the smile is definitely a meaningful expression and most likely is a happy one.

The science is of course new though and offers only the most cursory of examples as to the actual make up of the world’s most famous piece of art and the question of why the Mona Lisa is smiling.

The Artist and Historical Value

When you boil down everything about the painting to those first few days the canvas spent in a workshop in Italy, there is still Leoanrdo Da Vinci. More than anything else, his identity as the artist has helped build up the painting to the kind of international cultdom it now holds. He is a symbol of all things Renaissance – a scientist, artist, and thinker beyond that of anyone else that came before him. For that reason, his works hold much more mystique than those of any other artist.

The mystery of Leonardo’s life as written by Vasari and his quirky methods of sleeping, learning, and even writing (backwards) has earned the painting much of its mystique. Along with that are the ambiguous possibilities of its source. No one is wholly sure who the model was for the Mona Lisa.

Vasari wrote that it was Lisa Gherardini and many people support this theory. However DaVinci mentions another woman, Giuliano de’ Medici and records in France refer to her as a courtesan. Other theories have mentioned that she actually be a he, Leonardo himself in this case. The art world largely agrees that Gherardini is the model, but the mystique remains.

Early on, Leonardo carried his painting with him as well, everywhere he went. It became a symbol of his talents and was used to acquire further commissions in France. A lot of people saw it and a lot more people were intrigued to see it. But, the early popularity of the painting was well deserved as the Mona Lisa was a revolution in the painting of portraits. He was the first to paint a portrait from the waist up, and used the single vanishing point in the background for the first time. His technique and ability to bring a woman to life on canvas was inspirational to painters everywhere.

After 1530 when Franics I, King of France, acquired the Mona Lisa, it became a permanent possession of royalty for centuries. Dukes from England tried to purchase, Emperors lifted it into their bed chambers, and Kings held it in the highest regard as a prized possession in their palaces. Whenever royalty fawns over something, the rest of the world is sure to follow.
Public Accessibility

When the painting was removed to the Louvre in 1804 – after Napoleon’s exile – the time was ripe for people to fall in love with Leonardo’s work again. The Romantic era of painting was upon France and with it a love affair with Leonardo’s masterpieces, especially upon realizing the importance of the Mona Lisa. Thousands of copies were painted and before long the world was swarming with visions and variations of the famous painting as artists attempted to emulate their hero, Leonardo. Because she was so famous, she became even more famous, exalted if only because she was so well known.

The Theft

When the painting was stolen in 1911 from the Louvre by an Italian employee there, the outcry was immediate and the imagery pasted in every newspaper and on every street corner ensured that everyone in the world would know the face of the Mona Lisa, famous as she then was.

It was after the failure to recover the painting that her image began appearing in much less respectful manners. Throughout France, her image began appearing in films, on vehicles and soon in farcical roles in popular culture. The public idolized the image and yet mocked the saturation of her face in the media. Regardless the world soon knew the true value of the Mona Lisa.


Why is the Mona Lisa So Popular Today?

When she was finally returned in 1913, the actual acquisition of the painting made for an even more astounding display. The painting was displayed throughout Italy in a year long tour. Parades were held, songs were written, and entire books were penned in her honor. The great masterpiece was found and the world rejoiced.

Soon afterward, in response to the oversaturation of her image and the worldwide recognition of her face, the up and coming arts movements began taking notice and born were the images of Marcel Duchamp in “L.H.O.O.Q”, Andy Warhol’s colored negatives, and Nat King Cole’s songs. Her image became synonymous with the barrier between high and low art and as the progression of modernist art movements began breaking down that barrier, she became instant fodder for sculptures of her head, alterations of her face, and stories on her origins.

With that instant recognition comes all of the criticism of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa that has created a chasm in her popularity. The question of whether she is famous for just being famous has long been argued and even today rages on in many scholarly circles.

In 1502 Leonardo DaVinci began painting what would become his defining masterwork, the Mona Lisa. Completed over the course of the four years to follow, the Mona Lisa has long been a symbol of the Renaissance and the artistic mastery of a man who did so many things in his life. Many have pondered the question – why did Leonardo paint Mona Lisa? The most commonly held belief is that it was a commission to paint the wife of a nobleman he was acquainted with. Others have held the belief that he may have painted himself as a woman or that the woman pictured was someone else, or possibly a lover.


How Old was Mona Lisa?

According to Giorgio Vasari, the Italian biographer of painters in the 16th century, the sitter for DaVinci’s painting was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a silk merchant in Florence. As his third wife, Lisa Gherardini, was born in 1479 and raised in Tuscany until marrying del Giocondo in 1495. That would have made Gherardini 24 years old when Leonardo started on the Mona Lisa, her husband much older than her.

In recent years there has been a lot more research on the identity and life of Gherardini and her role in DaVinci’s life and painting. It has been said that DaVinci’s father was friends with del Giocondo and that he most likely commissioned the painting himself for his friends. During the course of their marriage, Gherardini and her husband had five children and she died in 1542 at the age of 63.

Further study and research in the last two years has revealed that Gherardini’s second son was born in the same year as the Mona Lisa was started, meaning it likely would have been a commission commemorating that birth. This also lends to the theories about the veil Mona Lisa wears in the painting which many have pointed to as a common sign of pregnancy at that time.
Other Theories and Mona Lisa Facts

The only problem with blindly believing Vasari’s account of the painting is that by the time he was writing his biographies, the painting was in France, before he was even born actually. This has prompted many people to theorize other possibilities for the origins of the sitter in DaVinci’s painting.

There are quotes from DaVinci regarding a portrait of a Florentine Lady, which might also be one of two other portraits of women painted by him. There have been other comments that caused confusion, at one time even linking the painting to Francesco del Giocondo himself.

However, the most famous and controversial theory of alternate sources for the model are that the painting is a self-portrait. Comparing the self portraits of Leonardo that he drew in his life time with the facial points and features of the Mona Lisa, recent computer analysis has shown nearly flawless comparisons.

Some people state that this is likely because DaVinci was most familiar with his own face and that both pieces of art were drawn by him. However, there have also been theories that the self-portrait described is actually a picture of DaVinci’s mother, explaining the similarities between the two. Another famous painting of DaVinci’s, that of St. John the Baptist, contains many of the same features of the Mona Lisa and shows many similarities to DaVinci’s facial features. Whatever the correct answer it is clear that for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa was a labor of love.

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci is not only one of the most important paintings ever created, it was one of the most important to Leonardo himself, a work he spent more than four years on and carried with him everywhere he went for the remainder of his life. The Importance of the Mona Lisa to Leonardo has caused great deals of speculation as to why he might have painted it and what the painting might be depicting.

When was the Mona Lisa Painted and Why?

The original Mona Lisa was painted in 1503 by Leonardo Da Vinci in his home in Italy. Vasari, the famous Italian biographer, wrote that it was a commission for Francesco del Giacondo and his wife Lisa Ghirardi, the model. Ghirardi would have been a 24 year old recent bride about to give birth to her second child at the time. Other scholars have made connections between Leonardo’s father and Francesco as friends and that Leonardo’s father might have commissioned the painting himself as a gift.

However, none of these facts are sufficient to explaining why the painting held so much value to Leonardo during his life. There are numerous theories recently postulated (in the last 100 years or so) that hope to tackle this question and make sense of the life and work of the world’s most important artist.

Other Models in the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci

With the outstanding theory being that the Mona Lisa is a painting of Lisa Ghirardi and other theories pointing to the possibility that it could be either Constanza d’Avalos or Isabella of Aragon, Duchess of Milan, the question of its importance is still not answered. While the revolutionary style and expression in the portrait have enthralled the art world since it was painted, it doesn’t explain DaVinci’s attachment.

A Self Portrait or His Mother?

There are further theories that the painting might have been a self-portrait, supported by the similarity of the painting to other self-portraits of DaVinci he painted and with other paintings that carry similar facial features. Another theory still postulates that he may have instilled some of the features of his mother in all of these paintings, making the Mona Lisa a portrait not of Lisa Ghirardi in detail, but of his mother Caterina.

The Importance of his Life’s Work

Throughout his life, Leonardo was intrigued by almost everything under the sun. He had a habit of infusing his interests into numerous works, adding touches of his obsession with weather and topography into the Mona Lisa in the background to show humanity’s culmination with nature. For that reason, his artwork was incredibly important to him, not only as art but as an expression of his life’s work. With such a small painting, and four years of work put into it, it could just be that he kept it with him as a representative of that.

With so much time and energy put into his masterpiece, Leonardo may have simply been wary to part way s with it, unable to find a suitable buyer, or lost the commission after the painting was completed. Whatever reason he so loved it though, Mona Lisa by da Vinci is full of the kinds of mystery and importance that has endured for more than 500 years.

Mona Lisa smile interpretation has been a prime debate among art historians and scholars for centuries, since DaVinci first put his painting to canvas so many years ago. Theories abound and tests have been run, but still today people wonder why it was that such a simple curl of the lips could be so expressive.
The Original Theories

For many years, when asked “Why is Mona Lisa smiling?” many art historians were given to offering their own outlandish theories on the smile. It appears differently to everyone that views it and for that reason has been the source of much speculation. Largely, it was thought early on that her smile was supposed to be cloying, to draw the observer closer into observing her and her surroundings. Whether she was happy or just being ironic was always a source of much argument though, as outlined in the original biography by Vasari and his description of the smile.
Freud and the Mother Theory

Always prone to his own augmented theories on the nature of art and literature, Sigmund Freud proffered that the smile was a representation of Leonardo’s attraction to his mother. For him, “Why is the Mona Lisa smiling” was less a question and more of a psychological twist on things. Using his own Oedipus Complex theory, Freud built on the theory that the painting might be a representation of DaVinci or his mother instead of Lisa Gherardini.

This theory is further expanded in more recent books that suggest the painting might be a portrait of his mother and that the smile might be a knowing smile of sorts. Others have postulated that the smile might be similarly secretive regarding an affair DaVinci might have had with another of his possible patrons.
The Smile Itself

To best understand why everyone is so intrigued by this enigmatic smile, it’s important to know that the smile is incredibly unique as a visual stimulus. The nature of the smile, painted in Sfumato, forces the eye to adjust to it according to how you perceive it. Different angles, different people, and different focal points create different effects when viewing the painting. An Art Professor from Harvard, Margaret Livingstone outlined her theory that the smile can only be seen from a peripheral angle, usually when staring into the eyes. Other scientists, such as Christopher Tyler from Smith-Kettlewell Institute theorized that the smile is actually an example of random noise in human vision.

Regardless of the nature of the smile, it definitely appears different to different people and has a habit of extending or retracting according to who views her. The carefully painted corners of her mouth blend so seamlessly upward as to combine with the rest of her face and facilitate a perfect example of Sfumato and not just the blurring of the lines in the painting, but of the lines in our perception.
So, Why Was the Mona Lisa Smiling?

Recent science has taken many leaps and with it the development of some incredibly apt emotional recognition software has helped scientists begin the process of analyzing art’s great mysteries, including the Mona Lisa’s smile. In 2005, a team of scientists from the University of Amsterdam tried their hands at discerning exactly what the Mona Lisa’s smile means. Their software eventually came up with results that described the smile as 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, 2% angry, and less than 1% neutral. According to their research, the smile is definitely a meaningful expression and most likely is a happy one.

The science is of course new though and offers only the most cursory of examples as to the actual make up of the world’s most famous piece of art and the question of why the Mona Lisa is smiling.

The Composition and Images of The Last Supper, World Famous Painting

In the composition of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, the Apostles and their reactions at hearing the news that one of them would betray Jesus are the focal points. The traditional perception of the Last Supper has always focused on Jesus. However, much of the painting is revealed in the actions of his disciples. Every one of the apostles reacts differently, each of them grouped into four groups of three.

So How Many Disciples Were at the Last Supper?

The first group, consisting of Bartholomew, James  Alphaeus and Andrew are all shocked and huddled together.

The second group of three consists of Judas Iscariot, Peter and John. This is the most controversial of the four groupings as it consist of Judas and John, who many have described as looking feminine. Judas himself is dressed in green and blue and recessed into the shadows, looking taken aback at the revelation. He holds a small bag, possibly signifying the silver he received for his betrayal. His elbow rests on the table along with that of Jude Thaddeus’s, a rude gesture of bad manners. Peter holds a knife in his hand and points it away from Christ. Finally John, the youngest of the apostles swoons in his pose.

The third grouping consists of Thomas, James Zebedee and Philip. Thomas is upset, though not angry while James is stunned by the news, with his arms raised into the air. Philip is confused in some manner, seeking further explanation of the situation.

The final grouping includes Matthew, Jude and Simon. Matthew and Jude are both turned toward Simon as though seeking answers.

It was not until the 19th century, when one of Leonardo’s notebooks was found that anyone could be sure of the exact names of the disciples at the Last Supper of Leonardo’s painting. He listed them in his notes however, making it possible to identify them.

The Last Supper picture itself is a common theme from the time period, though Leonardo utilizes numerous methods that other artists did not. While he does seat his entire cast on one side of the table as others did before, he does not exclude Judas or remove him from the table altogether. He also does not utilize halos to demarcate the good disciples from the bad. Instead, he uses a much more dramatic and realistic approach that involves recessing Judas into the shadows. He also creates a subtle mechanism for having Judas reach for the bread at the same time as Jesus, as neither realizes the other is doing so. As Jesus reaches for the bread, Judas is distracted and does the very same.

The lighting of the painting all points toward Jesus along with the angles. Everything centralizes on his figure as he stretches his arms out and creates a triangle to base the rest of the painting on.

Finally, it’s been noted how many groupings of the number 3 are included in the painting, a possible reference to the Holy Trinity by Leonardo. The Apostles are seated in groups of three. There are three windows on the wall and Jesus is a triangle himself. It’s impossible to know if there were any other references because of the manner in which the painting has deteriorated over time.