“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding”, said by the great man himself, Leonardo Da Vinci, till day is widely considered as the greatest painter of all time and his masterstroke, the Mona Lisa is recognized as the best piece of artwork ever created. Even though almost everyone has heard of the two, not many know about the details of the masterpiece created and even fewer know about the creator. This article will try to walk you through the brilliance of the creator and his marvellous creation.
Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian polymath most known for his contributions in art as well as science. He was an intellectual in a true sense and can be described as a man whose seemingly infinite curiosity was tantamount to his powers of invention. As an engineer, Leonardo’s ideas were vastly ahead of his time. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator and a flying machine to name a few. One of the unique things about his works was the way in which he encoded them. Leonardo had a special kind of shorthand that he invented himself mirroring his writing, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left. Often referred to as “mirror writing” (since it became readable when placed in front of a mirror), it is said that Leonardo used this to make it harder for people to read his notes and ultimately steal his ideas.
Leonardo once remarked, “Simplicity is the utmost sophistication” which is probably what his greatest piece of art, The Mona Lisa, is all about. Painted on wood, the half-length portrait is much more than just a painting; it is a symbol of pride and national heritage for France and the most admired piece of art all across the globe. But what is the uniqueness of the painting? And how did this simple oil painting turn into a symbol for national heritage? These are some questions that need to be answered.
Unlike some artwork of the sixteenth century, the Mona Lisa is a very realistic portrait of a real human being. It was made using a technique called sfumato, an artistic technique that uses subtle gradations of light and shadow to model form, which was extremely rare at that time and was mastered by a mere handful. But the things that make the painting truly unique are the eyes and the smile. The eyes create a sought of illusion in the minds of the viewer and it seems as if the eyes follow you throughout the room. They create an optical illusion and seem to follow you as you move around (credit to Leonardo’s mastery on lights and shadows). Even the intricacy with which the smile of the lady in the painting is created is appreciable since it appears different from different angles. She may seem to be smiling from one angle while sad from the other. Some even say that your interpretation of the ‘Soft smile’ is affected by your own emotional state and the feelings you are experiencing when you look at the painting.
The journey of this painting from its origin to its present-day is as dramatic as the painting itself. The painting travelled from Leonardo’s studio (after his death) to the royal collection of Francis I later going to the general public (during the French revolution) and then Napoleon’s bedroom before finally coming to the Louvre museum, where it now hangs. But that was certainly not the end to the dramatic story. In 1911, it was stolen from the Louvre museum and as a result, its popularity increased immensely among the masses because of its enormous advertisements and investigations. It was found, after more than two years, in late 1913 and this was followed by enormous celebrations. The French people started seeing it as a symbol of national heritage and welcomed it back to the Louvre museum with immense pride and elation. The celebrations of the ‘Home-coming’ showed that it was now much more than just a painting and that it had started to occupy a special place in the heart of the masses.
There has been great criticism as well about Mona Lisa where people have referred it as “overrated” and “lucky to be famous” but in my opinion, it is really a masterpiece that is fascinating and praiseworthy. Even though various incidents might have facilitated its popularity but in the end, it’s the beauty of the painting and its intricacies that have made it as a symbol of art in the present day. And although some may question if “Art should be separated from the artist”, there is no pair more perfect and complementing each other than ‘Leonardo Da Vinci and his Mona Lisa’ and proving that in every work of art, the artist himself is present.