Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa
(1503; Paris, Louvre)
   The Mona Lisa is Leonardo da Vinci's most recognized masterpiece and the central icon of the Renaissance. According to Giorgio Vasari, the female depicted in this portrait is Mona Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine banker. This identification has been accepted by most, though some scholars have suggested other possible sitters, including Isabella of Aragon, Duchess of Milan; a mistress of Giuliano de' Medici; and even Leonardo himself. Speculation as to why she smiles has also been raised, with suggestions varying from a woman following the aristocratic conventions of the day to Leonardo's fixation on his mother. A diagnosis of bruxism, the grinding of teeth resulting from anxiety, has also been made. Vasari wrote that Leonardo hired musicians and singers to amuse Mona Lisa as she sat for the portrait, which might provide another logical explanation. The work has been cut down. Originally, the figure was flanked by columns that attached to the still partially visible balustrade on which she rests her hands, this known from early copies of the painting. The importance of this work lies in the fact that, with it, Leonardo established a new portrait type. Previously in Italy, the likenesses of women were captured in profile in a nonrealistic manner, the emphasis on the sitter's social standing and luxurious costumes and jewelry. Mona Lisa is a frontal, naturalistically rendered figure set against a detailed landscape that echoes the curves of her hair and garments. There are no hints of luxury. Instead the focus is on the woman and her psyche. She is a living, breathing individual, a far cry from the flattened representations of the past. Her verism prompted Vasari to comment that when glancing at the figure one could swear her pulse was beating on the pit of her throat.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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