Mona Lisa – Simple Commission, Self Portrait, or Greater Mystery?

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The Mona Lisa is more than a simple work of art. The rumors, mysteries, and intrigue that have clouded it since it was first painted have made into an icon of sorts. Whatever his true intentions were when he painted it, there are hundreds of legends for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, meaning scholars will continue debating for centuries to come.

Mona Lisa Theories

There have been years of scholarly debate as to the meaning of the Mona Lisa and what Da Vinci was trying to do with his painting. The discovery that much of the work is balanced with carefully constructed dimensions has been augmented by the perfect Golden Rectangle in the Mona Lisa’s face and the one in her neck. A shape whose ratio of length to width is 1.6 is considered a Golden Rectangle. The ratio itself is considered a common natural occurrence and is believed to be one of the most pleasing shapes to the human eye, a good reason why artists attempt to utilize it in their artwork.

However, in Da Vinci’s work, the appearance of such shapes is so perfectly situated that many people have begun to see the painting as a palate of symbols and hidden meanings. The truth may never be discovered, though it is a sure thing that Da Vinci threw every trick he had as an artist into the painting, including the creation of new techniques that worked to draw that much more attention to the facial features. Blurring the edges of the Mona Lisa’s mouth with the Sfumato painting technique many attribute to him has also created the illusion of a smile that changes depending on where you look.

As to what Da Vinci was trying to hide with that smile or in those hands or background, few have been able to quite agree. Religious allusions have been blown out of proportion in literature and film and the possibility that her smile hides some hidden knowledge still persists in new books and theories almost annually.

Meaning of the Mona Lisa – The Visual Effects

What causes most people to so thoroughly disbelieve that the Mona Lisa is a simple portrait is the incredible detail and multilayered effects of the painting that even now are just being discovered. With every flicker of the eye and curl of the smile, the Mona Lisa mystery spreads to a new generation. Everyone knows of the effects of the smile, but the rest of the face and the background have similar effects, creating the appearance that the woman in the painting is more alive than simple paint ever could be.

For example, the horizon in the background appears at different levels on either side of her face. On the left side, it is lower, level with the eyes and creating a proper perspective in portrait. The right side however, is distorted. Because the left side is level, the view from the right should create a downward slope in the eyes from the left side. However, the painting slopes the opposite direction instead. This creates the subtle effect of rounding the face and making it feel more alive.

It also creates part of the effect seen in the eyes in which they appear to follow the observer, one of many stories of Mona Lisa observers take home with them from the Louvre. The human eye will take two separate images from different dimensional perspectives and combine them in certain instances – say when two differently angled X-rays are taken – and create the illusion of a three dimensional shape. By forcing the observer to compensate where they are looking and how they absorb the painting, Leonardo was able to create the illusion that the Mona Lisa’s eyes and face move.

This level of detail and carefully planned effect has caused many people to consider it highly unlikely that DaVinci was painting a simple portrait. Others still find it hard to believe that such effects were contrived on purpose, given the complexity of the portrait. The mysteries thus continue on, unanswered.

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Stories behind the Mona Lisa’s Smile

The smile is easily the most discussed of the Mona Lisa’s many mysteries. The primary consensus is that it is simply a smile. However, from an artist with the talent of Da Vinci, it surely was being utilized to display some hidden meaning, right? That is the theory of many scholars, and their thoughts are often quite vivid.

One of the many theories is that Da Vinci might have painted his mother into the portrait, a theory Sigmund Freud was fond of that included the idea that DaVinci might have had a sexual attraction to his mother. Support for such a theory is minimal though many point to the self-portraits of Da Vinci which might actually be paintings of his mother and his historical relation to her.

As for the model herself, many have stated that Lisa Gherardini was pregnant when the painting was started, supported by the wearing of the veil over her hair and the black clothing. However, others still see the smile as ironic or sad and point to her unhappiness in her marriage. Many stories behind Mona Lisa are directly related to her identity as Gherardini and her social standing.

However, another theory is that Da Vinci might have actually used a model, in this case Lisa Gherardini, but did not paint her. It’s impossible to know whether the truth of the Mona Lisa lays in the likeness of that woman from Florence, but the evidence still points to her role in its painting. However, with so many other features in the painting it’s easy to theorize that the painting itself might have a completely different goal. He may have painted her likeness as the basis of the painting and used it as a chance to utilize any of a number of other techniques found.

Another Odd Theory – Mona Lisa Was a Man

One theory that has stuck for many years despite the lack of evidence and support is that the painting is actually a self-portrait of Da Vinci himself and that the painting is something of a joke, with DaVinci smirking at his audience. The support for this theory lies mostly in the similarity in the facial structure of Da Vinci’s self portraits with the Mona Lisa. Leonardo DaVinci as a woman is still a hard image to accept for many scholars though.

However, recent computer programs used to line up the sketch and painting have shown that the facial features are almost exact matches. Other scholars have noted though that the reason for this might be nothing more than the results of a single artist creating both works with the same techniques. The truth about Mona Lisa might lie in that she isn’t really a she, but the theory is very much in contention and there is no way to prove it one way or the other.

The Controversy of the Mona Lisa

The painting’s striking visual effects and incredibly robust history has long had a massive effect on those that view. Kings and Emperors have placed her in their bedrooms, a museum worker stole her, and other men have thrown rocks and acid at her. For the Mona Lisa, controversy lies in the painting’s source, its meaning, and its popularity. However, more than anything else, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, no matter its meaning, is a result of the effect it has on its viewers. It’s incredibly hard to believe such an incredibly beautiful painting was born of a simple commission for a merchant’s wife.

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