Art History: Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a portrait of a woman sitting with hands crossed and staring at the viewer with slight smile. The relaxed, three-quarter pose is different from the stiff, profile portraits that were the normal at this time. The woman sits very upright with her arms folded, which is also a sign of her reserved posture. Her eyes meet the gaze of the observer, drawing the viewer into her eye line.

The woman’s hands and face tank out because they are light and luminous in contrast to her dark clothing and hair. The dark colors of her dress and hair also contrast with the lighter background landscape. The composition of portrait is triangular. Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply 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 models her hands.

Another important aspect of the work is the use of perspective, with all nines leading to a single vanishing point behind Mona Alias’s head. The horizon line is repeated in the railing behind the figure. The repetition of light draws the viewer’s eye around the painting, but always back to the face and hands. The work can be depicted as intriguing and mysterious, the subtle colors and tones suggest there is a sad mood to the portrait. Although there is no definite action, her eyes and mysterious smile indicate that she is hiding something, backing up the feeling of mystery.

The overall effect is a kind of natural attraction to her, drawn in by her appearance, but it immediately contrasts with the distance Leonardo creates between subject and observer. The mysterious woman is portrayed seated, behind her winding paths and a distant bridge give a slight indication of nature. The sensuous curves of the woman’s hair and clothing are echoed in the rolling valleys and rivers behind her. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo style.

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