Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, also known as La Giconda, is one of the most well-known paintings of the High Renaissance period. Painted between 1503-1506, it was done with oil paints on wood. Part of the reason it has so haunted people is because of Da Vinci's unique ability to capture expressions and facial subtleties that are lost in works by other artists. Da Vinci used a combination of idealizing and humanizing his subjects that gave them a realistic and surrealistic feel. The Mona Lisa has so many feelings expressed in the face that her smile has become legendary in and of itself for being completely mysterious. There are rumors that Da Vinci hired clowns and singers and other performers to amuse the model for his Mona Lisa so that she would enjoy her time posing for him, which is one theory as to why she looks so very amused. However, others speculate this is a ridiculous proposition due to the stately nature of the picture. The painting is confident and mellow, and the balance of her mouth in particular implies the same about her personality. The Mona Lisa is a woman that represents a spectrum, for her pose and sobriety are like that of a refined older woman, while her slightly chubby face and glimmer in her eye are like that of a child, and her falling hair is like that of a young woman looking for company.
The most widely recognized theory as to who the model for this painting was is the wide of Francesco del Gicondo. She is dressed in the modern fashion of De Vinci's time, in Florence. She is seated against a mountain-covered landscape. According to some historical accounts, the young woman that posed was actually named Mona Lisa, and she married the well-known Giocondo in 1495, and Leonardo himself was so in love with the portrait he carried it with him for years.
The cultural significance of the Mona Lisa is that it truly is the prototype or ultimate Renaissance portrait. The technique of the piece was immediately copied by others, and even today it remains one of the most copied and duplicated paintings. There are cultural elements embedded into the piece that are subtle and numerous, such as the slight openinng of the lips which was considered a sign of elegance among women of the day. The piece appears extremely lifelike, which is part of what appeals to and draws so many visitors to the painting for so many years. The Renaissance period was very much a time when painters were learning to dissolve the harsh, wooden, unrealistic feeling that so much of art from other periods utilized. The Renaissance brought new knowledge of perspective, lighting, anatomy, and other elements which allowed Di Vinci to create something so alive. Part of how he achieved this aliveness is through a new technique that Leonardo himself developed, called sfumato. What this means is that there are blurred outlines and mellowed colors that allow for different parts to merge with one another. The outlines and form are more vague, so the figure does not seem so stiff, but rather quite soft. The eyes and mouth, which are the two parts of the face that are most responsible for forming the expression, are left the most vague of the entire painting, which may be why the expression seems to shift from viewing to viewing.
There are more visual tricks in the painting. A closer look at the horizon reveals that it is not quite level, and in fact the left horizon lies lower in the picture than the right horizon. Unnatural as this may be, it is also an answer to why the Mona Lisa seems to change her expression -- depending on which side of the picture a person focuses on, the change in horizon will change the way the girl's figure appears. The landscape is complex and detailed, and the great care put into this piece makes it clear that the shifting horizon is by no means an accident. Leonardo was actually approaching the Mona Lisa like the scientist he was, which is also another way in which the Mona Lisa is exemplary of Renaissance art. It was believed that portraits somehow preserved the soul of the person painted, however Leonardo approached his piece as a scientist…