Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa
Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ better known as Mona Lisa has captivated the hearts and minds of millions for several hundreds of years since its conception. It is truly a great work of art in that it is basically simple yet its true life approach makes it one of the most desirable paintings ever to grace a collection of great masters.
Principally, Mona Lisa contains a visual expression of a woman in the height of her prime. Her staring gaze is undeterred by what is going on around her; she almost seems to be completely fixated with what is in the foreground demonstrating that life has a particular meaning to her. The facial expression is also dominated by largish eyes and an almost faint hinted edge of a smile although that is debatable. The painting also has political implications since it was intended to glorify a woman who had considerable influence at the time. Leonardo’s political connections were well known and were also important for his securing commissions such as the Mona Lisa.
The identity of the woman in the painting has long been the subject of intense debate and this also means that the speculation on it will continue for a long time to come. Many have said that ‘Mona Lisa’ was Leonardo’s lover or close friend but the fact that he was rumoured to be homosexual seems to put paid to that argument. Others have speculated that she was some sort of helper or benefactress and this could be closer to the truth although nothing has ever been proven in this regard. There have also been theories that the portrait is of the artist’s mother but that is highly unlikely.
Most of all the painting truly demonstrates the beauty and intrinsic wonderment of Leonardo’s capabilities when he was at the height of his powers as an artist. One cannot deny that this is truly one of the great paintings of the age and its value is surely unquestionable.
Visually the painting is not only striking but it is also extremely beautiful in every respect from the expression of ‘Mona Lisa’ onto the wonderment of the background and the subject’s attire.
Leonardo da Vinci was a man of many talents and also perhaps of many vices. Yet his capacity to thrill with this great painting has never been underestimated. It is surely one of the great paintings of the age and with its combination of beautiful colours and real life postures it speaks to our hearts with a directness that cannot be underestimated. It is definitely one of the greatest paintings of all time and deserves every accolade awarded to it.
Art in its various forms is always an eye opener and an experience so one has to approach it with an open mind. Take for example a symphony by Gustav Mahler such as the Third where the vast canvas of orchestral prowess provides a strangely philosophical and ethereal experience. In this sense the artefact is the music itself which rises to great crescendos and moves along with almost irresistible force whilst attempting to describe something which is not exactly clear. This in a nutshell is the aesthetic experience provided by the symphony and which remains firmly rooted in memory. After the work ends, one is left to think and reflect on what goes on in our lives and the aesthetic beauty of the music remains firmly and indelibly imprinted in the brain whilst continually demonstrating that philosophy is also an undying art in itself.
However there are other art forms apart from music which provoke an aesthetic experience. Take for a example the classic Mona Lisa with all its figures and action going on in the painting. When one attempts to focus on certain aspects of the work, the aesthetic experience becomes much greater as one can reflect on certain figures and their actions. The painting is riddled with indirect meanings and also has a certain sense of utter realism in it although the medieval aspect also has to be taken into account. In comparison, Breughel’s paintings provide moments of thought and deep reflection an in ‘The Last Judgement’ one is made to reflect on death and its environs or what comes after death itself. The aesthetic experience is indeed a strong and powerful one and cannot be discounted in any way.
Since art has been a form of expression since the beginning of time, one can also reflect on prehistoric architecture as an art form which in its own way also provides an aesthetic experience which apart from being powerful is also quite mystical. Take as an example the prehistoric temples at Mnajdra in Malta, these are sited in a remote Southwesterly part of the island which in itself is a place of rare beauty. As soon as one observes the temples with their majestic architecture, the aesthetic experience is almost thrilling in the extreme and also provides for a different perspective on art. One may reflect on the laborious work which the builders must have gone through to achieve this monumental structure and that in itself is truly an aesthetic experience.
The following portrait works are good comparisons to the Mona Lisa by Leonardo.
Albrecht Durer: Self Portrait 1500
In this piece Durer exhibits some of the darker characteristics of his visionary self with the face being very clear and etched out when compared to the stark black background. It displays an artist who is practically at the height of his powers and full of exuberant confidence whilst also very much a distinguished personality. The brushwork is also extremely vivid and clear , something which was not always used at the time.
This portrait uses typical Renaissance charteristics such as the dark background, the flat image of the face and the thick brushwork which is nominally of the period. Each characteristic is very much delineated especially the flat image and the stark face.
In my opinion, this is one of the classics of Durer’s output and desrves to be counted as one of the great portraits of the Renaissance period on all counts. Durer’s realism and proud disposition are extremely well brought out in the portrait.
Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi 1518
This is definitely one of the great portraits executed by Raphael in his later years. The expressions of the three clerical figures are sombre and yet serene with the splendid paraphearnalia being typical of the attire of the clergy at that time indicating that they yielded both spiritual and temporal power.
The painting includes the usual black background which is typical of the Reaniassance and also focuses on the holy artefacts such as the candlestick and the prayer book. Symbolism is also rife with several hidden messages imbued in the painting as was wont of several Reanaissance artists.
I find this painting one of the finest ever executed by the great Florentine. He manages to find a balance between pomposity and spirituality which is quite disarming and which is also very powerful especially in the expressions of the three holy men. We are left in no doubt who is in command here but at the end of the day it is a painting which depicts the huge power wielded by the Church at that time.
Juan de Juanes: The Last Supper ca 1560
Influenced by Rapheal in several ways, Juan de Juanes, a Spanish painter created this wonderful depiction of the Last Supper around 1560. Here we can see the typical Renaissance styles in that the figure of Christ obviously takes centre stage and there is a lot of mysticism surrounding his lifting of the host. The work is rhythmic and very alive with the apostles creating a sense of awe and piety as they look upon the Christ
The painting includes several typical Renaissance characteristics such as the bust brushwork, carefully delineated figures and also the flat one dimensional images which are very much the premise of such works. Yet again, the dark background is rather typical as are the implorings of teh apostles as they pray.
I find this painting very arresting and spiritually alive, it is also extremely busy with quite a lot going on in it. It is definitely one of the finest depictions of the Last Supper of its age.
El Greco: The Assumption of the Virgin 1577
This is probably one of the greatest examples of Renaissance art and is a shining beacon in the El greco canon. Firstly it provides a kind of hallowed glory to the figures in question and is also beautifully coloured with several shades of blue, yellow and pink creating pastel shadows that are rather disarming to say the least.
El Greco’s Assumption is littered with typical Renaissance art characteristics. First of all the figure of Our Lady is looking towards the sky as though in a heavenly trance while those who are following her also have that spiritual and deeply arresting expression on their faces. Other Renaissance characteristics include the typical heavy brushwork as well as the clouds which create a sense of immortality and eternity as Our Lady rises to her rightful place in Heaven. It is indeed a powerful and strongly absorbing work.
I find this painting very powerful and absorbing and it also reminds me of Titian and other Florentine artists of the period. It is a hugely arresting work full of mixed messages and at the same time extremely mysterious as was wont of El greco. The holy subject is treated with great respect and dignity and its is probably one of the seminal pieces of expressive art which will continue to stand the test of time.
The Mona Lisa remains a controversial work in some aspects but it is also an incredibly vivid portrayal of womanhood in a strikingly original way.
Littlefield, Walter (1914). "The Two "Mona Lisas"". The Century: a popular quarterly (Scribner & Co.) 87.
Bohm-Duchen, Monica (2001). The private life of a masterpiece. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-23378-2. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
Farago, Claire J. (1999). Leonardo's projects, c. 1500–1519. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-2935-0. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
Gardner's Art through the Ages: Backpack Edition, Volume C, 14th ed., Book 3, 2002, Print