What Does the Mona Lisa Represent?

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One of the most famous--and mysterious--paintings in the world, the Mona Lisa now resides in the Louvre in Paris, France. Polymath artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) of Florence, Italy, painted this famous portrait.

The Name

The name of the portrait comes from the woman it is commonly believed to represent: Lisa del Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florence businessman. In modern Italian, “mona” means “my lady” or “madam,” so the title means “Madam Lisa”. The identity of the woman in the painting, though, remains disputed (see below).

Realism

The painting’s realism was informed by Leonardo da Vinci’s study of human anatomy and perspective. He used multiple layers of transparent color, only a few molecules thick, giving the Mona Lisa’s face its glow.

Changing Expression

A recent study by the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute suggested that random “visual noise” (which happens because of eye or brain signal fluctuations) may give viewers the impression that the face of the Mona Lisa changes.

Sfumato

E.H. Gombrich, author of “The Story of Art,” explains that Leonardo da Vinci invented a technique called “sfumato” which may account for the painting’s mystery. By leaving the outlines of the painting looking vague and shadowy, the artist left more to the imagination of the viewer.

Identity

Historian Maike Vogt-Luerssen has theorized that the portrait really represents the former Duchess of Milan, Isabella of Aragon and that her sad expression is due to her unhappy marriage. Several other possible identities for the sitter have been suggested, including Costanza d'Avalos, Pacifica Brandano, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza, and even da Vinci himself, but consensus opinion among scholars today supports the traditional view that the subject's identity is Lisa del Giocondo.

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