Why is Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa so special?

Mona Lisa is the one of the greatest paintings of all time. No debate about that. However while discussing about it recently, I wasn’t clear about what makes it so special. My research revealed facts that I had not known previously. Below are few of the reasons why it is special in no particular order or importance. There are many that are not listed here.

Background

Leonardo Da Vinci was a consumer of knowledge. Although he is mostly known for his art, he studied anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, painting, and paleontology. When Leonardo Da Vinci was appointed “The first painter, engineer and architect of the King” for The French King Francis I, he left Rome and traveled through Italy, armed with his sketchbooks and 3 of his most famous paintings; Mona Lisa, The Virgin and Child, with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist. Leonardo knew the significance of the Mona Lisa and that it would eventually become the greatest psychological portrait ever painted.

The simplicity of its time

When portaits were commissioned in the Renaissance period, they were done by aristrocrats and royals. The portriats captured the wealth and status of the individual and their families. The subjects themselves would be adorned with jewellery, expensive outfits and flamboyant accessories. The Mona Lisa was a stark contrast at the time. She was stripped of all the usual high status symbols. Her outfits are simple, plain and do not stand out at all. No jewellery. Ordinary hair style.

All of these were conscious choices made by the artist to serve one and only one purpose; to not distract from the face of Mona Lisa.

Composition and pose

Leonardo used the classic pyramid-shaped composition that was established in the Renaissance period. It focused the viewer’s eyes on the face of the Mona Lisa right in the center of the painting and provided overall stability to the art.

Another striking feature is the 3/4 sitting posture. In the world of full length portraits with subjects standing tall and stiff, it was a groundbreaking approach to have a relaxed, sitting subject with her amrs resting on the chair, with only 3/4 of the length being used. It became a norm for centuries after that. Women generally looked away from the viewer with only men looking towards. Mona Lisa was a departure from that norm too, and had Mona Lisa looking directly at the viewer.

The scene

Deviating from the usual dredgery of a solid background of a sky or a room, Mona Lisa was painted in front of a vivid landscape. This landscape was not painted from reality but only using the artist’s imagination. The complicated landscape is a work of art in itself. The artist created the illusion of distance by varying the focal points of objects in the background. They blurred away as the distance increased. Elements of nature blended into the subject at various points such as the river flows into the scarf on the right, and ZZ

  • Ahead of its time
  • Sfumato
  • 3/4 portrait
  • No royal robes/jewellery
  • Horizon bending
  • Smile with light theory
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