The Mona Lisa reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Mona Lisa

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Mona Lisa (also known as the Monna Lisa; Italian La Gioconda; French La Joconde), is a painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci showing a woman with an introspective expression, smiling very slightly. It is probably the most famous portrait in art history. Few other works of art are so romanticized, celebrated, or reproduced. Leonardo began the picture in 1503 and completed it three or four years later. The oil painting on wood now hangs in the Louvre museum in Paris and is the museum's star attraction.

Identity of the Model

The <strong>Mona Lisa</strong>, an [[oil painting
on
poplar wood measuring 77 x 53 cm.]]

Many art historians believe that the model used for the painting may have been the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a rich silk merchant of Florence and a prominent figure in Florentine government. This belief stems primarily from a statement made by Da Vinci during the last years of his life, speaking of a portrait "of a certain Florentine lady done from life at the request of the magnificent Giuliano de' Medici".

Da Vinci's first biographer, a painter named Vasari, describes the portrait as being of Mona Lisa, the wife of a Florentine gentleman, Francesco del Giocondo. Del Giocondo, a wealthy bourgeois holding a position of political authority in Florence, really existed. However little is known about the life of his wife, Lisa Gherardini, born in 1479. It is known that she married del Giocondo in 1495 but in fact there is no proof that she could have been the mistress of a Medici or the woman whom Da Vinci referenced.

A later anonymous statement creates a certain confusion, linking the Mona Lisa to a portrait of Francesco del Giocondo - the origin of the controversial idea that it is the portrait of a man.

The alternative title to the work, “La Gioconda,” stems from a text written later, in 1625, which refers to the work as a "half-figure portrait of a certain Gioconda." It should be noted however that in Italian "gioconda" means a light-hearted woman.

Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs suggests that the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait of Leonardo himself. She supports her theory with the results of a digital analysis of the facial features of Leonardo's face and that of the famous painting. When flipping a self portrait Leonardo previously painted of himself and merging with an image of the Mona Lisa using a computer, the features of the faces align perfectly. Critics of this theory suggest that the similarities are due to both portraits used in the comparison being painted by the same person using the same style. The theory of the Mona Lisa being a self-portrait arises in The Da Vinci Code.

The historian Maike Vogt-Lüerssen from Adelaide argued after researching the subject for 17 years that the woman behind the famous smile is Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan, for whom Leonardo da Vinci was the court painter for at least 11 years [1]. The pattern on Mona LisaÒs dark green dress indicates that she is a female member of the house of Visconti-Sforza. The Mona Lisa portrait was the first official portrait of the new Duchess of Milan and was painted in spring or summer 1489. Moreover, only the Duchess of Milan was allowed to be depicted as the Virgin with Child and the main female saint of Milan, Catherine of Alexandria [1]. Over 50 pictures show Isabella of Aragon in this role, and the resemblance to the Mona Lisa is evident.

Aesthetics

The Mona Lisa set the standard for all future portraits. The portrait presents the subject from just above the bust, with a distant landscape visible as a backdrop. Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck, and face glow in the same light that softly models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles, which includes the arc of her famous smile. Sigmund Freud interpreted the 'smile' as signifying Leonardo's erotic attraction to his dear mother; others have described it as both innocent and inviting. Still others, as devious or even sad. However, such mysterious smiles were a common feature of portraits during Leonardo's time.

Many researchers have tried to explain why the smile is seen so differently by people. The explanations range from scientific theories about human vision to curious supposition about Mona Lisa identity and feelings. Professor Margaret Livingstone of Harvard University argued that the smile is mostly drawn in low spatial frequencies, and so can be best seen by the peripheral vision [1]. Christopher Tyler and Leonid Kontsevich of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco believe that the changing nature of the smile is caused by variable levels of random noise in human visual system [1]. Historian Maike Vogt-Luerssen argues that Isabella of Aragon (i.e. Mona Lisa) was sad because her husband was an impotent, a heavy drinker and beat her often. Isabella described herself as "The most unhappy wife of the world."

Although utilizing a seemingly simple formula for portraiture, the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape has placed this work in the canon of the most popular and most analyzed paintings of all time. The sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing, created through sfumato, are echoed in the undulating valleys and rivers behind her. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects Leonardo's idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo's vision and genius.

Behind the figure, a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo's style.

The painting was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape. One interesting feature of the landscape is that it is uneven. The landscape to the left of the figure is noticeably lower than that to the right of her. This has led some critics to suggest that it was added later.

The painting has been restored numerous times; x-ray examinations have shown that there are three versions of the Mona Lisa hidden under the present one. The thin poplar backing is beginning to show signs of deterioration at a higher rate than previously thought, causing concern from museum curators about the future of the painting.

Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produced modifications and caricatures, for instance by drawing a moustache on the woman's face. The painting was reproduced as posters by Andy Warhol.

The Guinness Book of Records counts the painting as the most valuable object ever insured.

History

The painting was brought from Italy to France by Leonardo in 1516 when King François I invited the great painter to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's chateau in Amboise. The king then bought the painting.

The painting first resided in Fontainebleau, later in Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon Bonaparte had it moved to his bedroom; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.

On August 22, 1911, the theft of the Mona Lisa was discovered. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of theft on September 7 and Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, believing that the painting belonged to Italy and shouldn't be kept in France, stole it by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat. However, greed got the better of him and the Mona Lisa was recovered when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913.

During World War I and World War II the painting was again removed from the Louvre and stored at a safe place.

On June 10, 1950, "Mona Lisa," a ballad sung by Nat King Cole in tribute to the painting reached #1 and went on to sell 3 million copies.

In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged after an acid attack. Several months later someone threw a stone at it. It is now being kept under security glass.

In 1962, the painting was loaned to the United States and shown in New York City and Washington D.C. In 1974 it went on a tour and was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow.

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