Why is the Mona Lisa famous?

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The Mona Lisa is famous for its mysteries and the smile the woman in the painting holds. Leonardo da Vinci did not complete many paintings to this level, in great detail. In the Mona Lisa we can see da Vinci’s perfected technique of sfumato. It also illustrates da Vinci’s motions of the mind – a moments thought caught in a facial gesture. The landscape depicted in the painting is a place where Leonardo would have probably surveyed on during his work with Cesare Borgia and thus gives credence to Leonardo’s movements during his life time. This is part of its importance as a piece of art history.

The portrait depicts a lady named Lisa Gherardini sitting in an upright position sideways in a chair with her face and chest turned slightly to the viewer. Her left arm is relaxed on an arm rest with her right hand clasping her left. The body language of the hands resting on the arm rest gives a slightly protective position between the sitter and viewer thus giving us a metaphorical distance to her.

It is alleged that some of the portraits sides were lost when reframing, so some of the important image is lost. Believing that the portrait had two columns framing it (as seen with two rectangles to the left to the right elbow) this would be a technic Leonardo used to help focus our eye on the subject. The surreal background landscape is behind the sitter. It was created with smoky blues and clearly no vanishing point. Looking to the right of the background the rocky platform is more levelled up than that to the left.

Have you ever noticed the Mona Lisa doesn’t have eyelashes or eyebrows? A preparatory drawing beneath the painting depicts the lady having these but it is most likely possible that the pigment that was used for these features were removed during cleaning.

The Mona Lisa was an oil painting on wood. It illustrates Leonardo’s mastery of the technique sfumato and his oil painting skills. The sfumato is clearly visible around the eyes, cheeks and mouth. It gave the figure a very soft and relaxed tone.

The general impression given by the Mona Lisa is one of great tranquility and a cloudy air of mystery. The colours can be misinterpreted for a gloomy and depressing state, but the colours balance the portrait out. Simple clothing neither that of peasants nor wealthy people is worn by Lisa, the soothing sfumato tonality and her pyramid-shaped pose give us a sense of the harmony created.

Three main reasons as to why a cloud of mystery is formed:

  • Enigmatic half-smile
  • Her gaze who makes us think she knows a secret we’ve never told anyone else before. This gaze is directed to the right of the viewer.
  • And her positioning of the hands. They’re slightly unreal, lifeless quality and it can be argued that they don’t exactly belong to her.

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