Lisa (also known as La Gioconda or La Joconde)
is a sixteenth-century portrait painted in oil on a poplar panel
in Florence, Italy by Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci during the Renaissance.
is currently owned by the Government of France and is on display at the
Musée du Louvre museum in Paris under the title Portrait of Lisa
Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Arguably, it is the most
famous and iconic painting in the world.
painting is a half-length portrait and depicts a standing woman
whose facial expression is frequently described as enigmatic.
Others believe that the slight smile is an indication that the
subject is hiding a secret. The ambiguity of the subject's expression,
the monumentality of the composition, and the subtle modeling
of forms and atmospheric illusionism were novel qualities that
have contributed to the continuing fascination and study of the
Da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503. According to Da Vinci's
contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, "...after he had lingered over it
four years, left it unfinished...." He is thought to have continued
to work on it for three years after he moved to France and to have
finished it shortly before he died in 1519. Leonardo took the painting
from Italy to France in 1516 when King François I invited the
painter to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise.
Most likely through the heirs of Leonardo's assistant Salai, the
king bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Château
Fontainebleau, where it remained until given to Louis XIV. Louis XIV
moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution,
it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom
in the Tuileries Palace; later it was returned to the Louvre. During
the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) it was moved from the Louvre
to a hiding place elsewhere in France.
Lisa was not well known until the mid-nineteenth century when
artists of the emerging Symbolist movement began to appreciate
it, and associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique.
Critic Walter Pater, in his 1867 essay on Leonardo, expressed
this view by describing the figure in the painting as a kind
of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity, who is "older
than the rocks among which she sits" and who "has been
dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave."
article: Lisa del Giocondo
Mona Lisa is named for Lisa del Giocondo, a member of the Gherardini family of
Florence and Tuscany and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco
del Giocondo. The painting was commissioned for their new home and to celebrate
the birth of their second son, Andrea.
sitter's identity was ascertained at the University of Heidelberg
in 2005 by a library expert who discovered a 1503 margin note
written by Agostino Vespucci. Scholars have been of many minds,
identifying at least four different paintings as the Mona Lisa
and several people as its subject. Leonardo's mother Caterina
in a distant memory, Isabella of Naples or Aragon, Cecilia Gallerani,
Costanza d'Avalos—who was also called the "merry one" or
La Gioconda, Isabella d'Este, Pacifica Brandano or Brandino,
Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza, and Leonardo himself have
all been named the sitter. Today the subject's identity is held
to be Lisa, which was always the traditional view.
A margin note by Agostino Vespucci from October 1503 in a book in the library
of the University of Heidelberg identifies Lisa del Giocondo as the model
of Mona Lisa.The painting's title stems from a description by Giorgio Vasari
in his biography of Leonardo published in 1550, 31 years after the artist's
death. "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the
portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife...." (one version in Italian: Prese
Lionardo a fare per Francesco del Giocondo il ritratto di mona Lisa sua
moglie). In Italian, ma donna means my lady. This became madonna, and its
contraction mona. Mona is thus a polite form of address, similar to Ma’am,
Madam, or my lady in English. In modern Italian, the short form of madonna
is usually spelled Monna, so the title is sometimes Monna Lisa, rarely
in English and more commonly in Romance languages such as French and Italian.
his death in 1525, Leonardo's assistant Salai owned the portrait
named in his personal papers la Gioconda which had been bequeathed
to him by the artist. Italian for jocund, happy or jovial, Gioconda
was a nickname for the sitter, a pun on the feminine form of
her married name Giocondo and her disposition. In French, the
title La Joconde has the same double meaning.
Detail of the background (right side)Leonardo used a pyramid design to place
the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form
the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck and face glow in the same light
that models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying
geometry of spheres and circles. Leonardo referred to a seemingly simple formula
for seated female figure: the images of seated Madonna, which were widespread
at the time. He effectively modified this formula in order to create the visual
impression of distance between the sitter and the observer. The armrest of the
chair functions as a dividing element between Mona Lisa and the viewer.
woman sits markedly upright with her arms folded, which is also
a sign of her reserved posture. Only her gaze is fixed on the
observer and seems to welcome them to this silent communication.
Since the brightly lit face is practically framed with various
much darker elements (hair, veil, shadows), the observer's attraction
to Mona Lisa's face is brought to even greater extent. Thus,
the composition of the figure evokes an ambiguous effect: we
are attracted to this mysterious woman but have to stay at a
distance as if she were a divine creature. There
is no indication of an intimate dialogue between the woman and
the observer as is the case in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
(Louvre) painted by Raphael about ten years after Mona Lisa,
and undoubtedly influenced by Leonardo's portrait.
Detail of Lisa's hands, her right hand resting on her left. Leonardo chose this
gesture rather than a wedding ring to depict Lisa as a virtuous woman and
faithful wife. The painting was among the first portraits to depict the
sitter before an imaginary landscape and Leonardo was one of the first
painters to use aerial perspective. The enigmatic woman is portrayed
seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either
side. Behind her a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths
and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence.
The sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing, created through sfumato,
are echoed in the undulating imaginary valleys and rivers behind her. The
blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark,
and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo's style. Due
to the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape
it is arguable whether Mona Lisa should be considered as a traditional
portrait, for it represents an ideal rather than a real woman. The sense
of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in
the sitter's faint smile—reflects the idea of a link connecting humanity
Lisa has no visible facial hair—including eyebrows and
eyelashes. Some researchers claim that it was common at this
time for genteel women to pluck them out, since they were considered
to be unsightly. In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte announced
that his ultra high resolution scans of the painting provide
evidence that Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes
and eyebrows, but that these had gradually disappeared over time,
perhaps as a result of overcleaning. For modern viewers the missing
eyebrows add to the slightly semi-abstract quality of the face.
scientists have been able to determine through X-ray fluorescence
(XRF) spectrometry how Da Vinci created the Mona Lisa's almost
flawless skintones using microthin glazes; a technique known