Saturday, January 26, 2013

Italian Renaissance (pt. 10)

And this is considered da Vinci's most famous work of art: the Mona Lisa, painted between 1503 and 1506 and actually believed to be unfinished.
This marks the first time we've seen oil paintings in Italy, an influence from Northern Europe.  Da Vinci was commissioned to paint this (in other words, someone paid him to make this portrait), but the artist never gave it up.  He could not part with it, and he kept it till his death.  And the advocates to the theory about da Vinci's homosexuality propose this could be a self-portrait—da Vinci painting himself as a woman.  There are several other peculiar things which, added up together, make this quite a unique piece of art.  For starters, this is again a portrait of a woman.  The Renaissance in particular saw the outbreak of female subjects in paintings—but, still a long way away from the feministic apotheosis of women, women in paintings (for the most part) are shown as submissive wives or pure virgins.  The Mona Lisa's hands are folded gently to demonstrate this meek and modest nature.  Second to consider: the background.  Where is she?  Scholars are still unable to identify the backdrop in this painting, which contains mountains, rivers, trees, plains, and other pastoral elements—all combined to form something of a super-landscape…or else maybe a supernatural landscape.  It has been suggested—taking into account the almost surreal appearance of the landscape and the dark, twilight lighting which da Vinci used—that the Mona Lisa is in Hell.  …Let's hope not!
By far the most famous feature of the painting, as you all know, are the eyes (which, by the way, aren't topped by any eyebrows).  The eyes, remember, are "the windows to the soul."  The Mona Lisa's pupils are so positioned at an angle—again, da Vinci, the scientist—that she appears to be staring right at you.  This conflicts with what I said earlier about her submissiveness—a humble woman would look downwards.  The Mona Lisa is looking straight at you.  …Eh, makes some people feel uncomfortable; like, she's looking right at me—ah!  What's more, she has a tiny smirk on her lips as if she's laughing inside.  Maybe she knows a secret.  Haha, or maybe people just like to make up conspiracies that she does to keep us interested—like the theory that there are microscopic numbers and symbols engraved by da Vinci on the Mona Lisa's eyes (…and, by the way guys, there's a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, too).
The art elements which da Vinci utilized were revolutionary, and this would have been one of the most realistic-looking portraits of the day.  The detail put into her robe and sleeves alone is extraordinary.  Add to this that the actual painting was famously stolen and, later on, that a famous artist drew a moustache on a copy and submitted it to an art exhibition, and the painting's fame only increases, this small 30" x 21" portrait of an unknown person in an unknown location.  Still a magnificent painting, though (famous or not famous), isn't it?

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