Thursday, April 17, 2008

What is the Mona Lisa?

What does this image mean to you? What is the first thing you think of when you see that famous smile and those striking eyes? Do you feel moved in a certain way? Are you touched on any artistic level? Or do you immediately jump to the harsh, restricting lines of the mysterious and unknown content of this work?

The Mona Lisa is one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous works, and yet we know very little factual information about the woman who posed for this portrait. For literally hundreds of years we have questioned the purpose of this piece of artwork, and even after several tests and technologically advanced examinations of the Mona Lisa, we still have a hard time producing any definite answers.

Cracking the code of the Mona Lisa has become a multi-million dollar business lately. There have been best-selling novels and popular feature-length films, thus further devaluing the work of art as it is, and making this painting more into an icon to represent a certain ideal. A group called Spy ‘n Buy has recently found what they believe to be the face of Jesus Christ in the Mona Lisa. This is done buy overlapping the portrait and lining up the eyes.

It has been argued that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait Da Vinci created in order to portray himself as a woman. Research and analysis by Dr. Lillian F. Schwartz shows that the faces of a self-portrait by Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa line up using digital scanning to reverse and overlay the portraits. The facial features match perfectly, so one could assume that Mona Lisa is not actually a woman at all, but Da Vinci’s portrayal of himself as a woman.

Here we can see an artist bomb out a replica of the Mona Lisa in less than three hours, keep in mind that it took Da Vinci years and years to complete this work, and some say that he never did get the chance to finish it completely.

This painting has become one of the most famous and symbolic paintings in the world, yet one has to wonder why. What was so mysterious about this particular work that caused the world to throw it into such scrutinous speculation? Why must we define this particular work as a political or meaningful statement? While there are some very interesting aspects to this work, we will never truly know the meaning and motivation for Da Vinci to make this portrait. Yet we continue to search for answers, so we may be more comfortable with this artwork. This is very unlike other classical works of art, such as that of Frida Kahlo (discussed earlier in the blog). We take Kahlo's work for what it is, very little interpretations or accusations of meaning are placed onto her artwork, yet we are still able to learn from it. It is interesting that we are not able to do this for the Mona Lisa as well.

It would seem that every time we discover something new about the Mona Lisa we are left with even more questions. Let us stop the over-interpretation of this famous artwork and let it be. Susan Sontag would say that we are lessening the power of this art by imposing so many question and hinging so many beliefs onto it. We must see past the interpretations and take it for what it is; let us finally leave the Mona Lisa alone.

Research for this blog can be found at: