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Posted on August 17th, 2012, by

Mona Lisa must be the most famous picture of the Renaissance period. Renaissance has changed the world culture and the way of thinking and Italy was in the heart of these changes. During this period of rebirth and seeking for the new values, Italy had become the cultural center of Europe and given to the world more talented people than all the countries taken together. Such outstanding artists as Leonardo da Vince, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Donatello, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Castagno, Petrarch and Boccaccio and many others lived and created their masterpieces in Italy. These names have changes the face of the European culture and made the entire world know about the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance with its new ideas in art, astronomy, science, literature, mathematics, philosophy, religion, and politics became a breath of fresh air for the society suppressed by the religious dogmas and rules. Not satisfied with the existing state of events, Italian Humanists of the Renaissance period turned back to the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. This ancient culture with its cult of human beauty, naturalness and thirst for life became a source of inspiration for the progressive intellectuals.

The Renaissance is the period in art famous for its marvelous discoveries and a new approach to art. At that time the focus of attention becomes an individual with all its merits. Common people with their wishes, feelings and emotions attract humanists’ of that time and it can be easily proved on the example of Mona Lisa.

The most popular version about the model for the painting states that the paining was made from Florentine lady Lisa Gherardini, who became famous as Joconde. All the information about the personality of the model derives from the notes of Leonardo’s first autobiographer Visari. It is Vasari, who told that Leonardo portrayed Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesoce Gioconda. Leonardo should be thankful to Vasari for the popularization of this painting. Vasari gave the tone to the millions of admirers by describing Mona Lisa as an ideal of ultimate feminine beauty. At the same time he described her as a usual housewife. All the information about Gioconda’s aristocratic origin or her love affair with Leonardo are nothing but guesses which have no historical proofs.

Leonardo began the paining in the beginning of the 16th century.  The work lasted for four years. Some researches state that the painting has features of Giuliano de Medici, who had relations with Leonardo. Another version states the paining is a self-portrait and Leonardo depicted himself. There is also another version which states that famous Joconde is a cumulative portrait, which had been painted during the period of ten years and has the features of several people Leonardo met during this period. However, all these facts prove that the model for the picture was an unknown woman and it is her individuality not her noble origin that is important. The painter is striving to depict not only her natural beauty but also to depict her emotions and feelings and even make people guess what she is thinking about at that very moment.

Leonardo painted a lot of portraits and there are many beautiful women portrayed there but only Mona Lisa has become so popular and its popularity only grows through the centuries. Portraits of St. Anne, Virgin, Cecilia Gallerani, and Lucrezia Crivelli made by Leonardo also present different types of beautiful women but people, who make a long journey to Louvre in order to see Mona Lisa, hardly know about other not less brilliant works by Leonardo. This popularity can be explained by the pure naturalness of the painting and, of course, mysterious smile.

Every detail is significant and meaningful in this picture because these are the details that create the whole image of the painting. Firstly, the painter’s richness of colors makes the picture bright but at the same time light and divine.

Secondly, Leonardo depicts a beautiful woman but we see her as a common person with her own peculiarities. The paints are chosen so carefully that there is no unnecessary accent on the picture. These little details make the images individual and so realistic. We look at the picture and see a real woman smiling at us. Thirdly, it is necessary to pay special attention to the play of light: the left part of the picture is shadowed, the background is also shadowed and the center of attention becomes the person. This play of light creates this well-known mysterious smile and makes the picture alive.

The history of Mona Lisa’s popular is also worth attention. Leonardo brought the painting to France in 1516 and this was that lucky coincidence which played an important role in the great popularity of this painting because after it had been brought there it finally got to Louvre.

Leonardo’s works became extremely popular in the nineteenth century. The interest to Italian art during the period of Renaissance caused the growth of popularity of Mona Lisa. During Leonardo’s life the works by Michelangelo and Raphael were much more popular. The situation changed in the nineteenth century.  The poet Theophile Gautier created an image of femme fatale and he used the portrait of Mona Lisa as an illustration for his image. This tendency quickly gained popularity among other poets and finally caused the growth of interest to Leonardo’s works in general and Mona Lisa in particular.  The painting by Leonardo became an incarnation of female beauty irresistible and intoxicating, glorified by the people of art and admired by ordinary people.

As soon as the interest to Mona Lisa had decreased, the picture was stolen and this fact caused another wave of the growth of its popularity. After almost the century of great popularity Italian painter-decorator, who removed the painting from the museum when it was closed, heated the interest to the painting. After this incident museum was closed for a week and after it was reopened people showed their respect to the work of art by visiting museum in order to see empty place where it used to hang.  An incident got a political coloring because the thief decided to return the picture to Italy where he was arrested.  There are also multiple stories of false thefts of the paining, which heated public interest from time to time. Some researchers believe that the theft of Mona Lisa has become one of the main reasons of its popularity all over the world. This theft and further discovery initiated the appearance of post cards, reproductions, ballads, and even cartoons showing Mona Lisa. Very soon endless versions: for Warhol’s multiple Gioconda (Thirty Are Better than One); for Terry Gilliam’s animated Gioconda in the Monty Python title sequence; for William Gibson’s sprawl novel’ Mona Lisa Overdrive; for the classic citations in Cole Porter’s You’re the Top, Nat King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa and Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna appeared (Sassoon, 2002, p. 89). Children nowadays know Mona Lisa from popular objects, such as cartoons and post cards.  Not even all adults know the author of the painting, but an image of women with an enigmatic smile is recognized all over the world.

Mona Lisa is the best illustration of the Renaissance art and philosophical school. Leonardo de Vinci depicts a common beautiful woman making an accent not only on her appearance but also emphasizing her inner beauty and power. Humanism focuses on depicting usual individuals with their thoughts and feelings. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests (Baxandall, 1988, p. 113). Mona Lisa is the painting that proves this tendency on its own example.

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