Some people are disappointed
when they first see the most famous painting in the world.
At first glance it doesn’t have the wow factor that
other paintings in the Louvre have.
It lacks drama.
But if we can ignore the hundreds of people that surround her,
if we can turn down the volume and just push the off button for a second.
What we actually see is a quiet – contemplative painting.
The greatest psychological portrait ever painted.
A portrait so ahead of its time that centuries later,
we are still trying to figure it out.
The Mona Lisa however is not just the most famous painting in the world,
it is also the source of innumerable myths legends and supposition.
In 1516, the 22 year old french king
Francis the first offered leonardo a job，
court painter, engineer and architect to the king.
Leonardo, now in his sixties,
moved to the château d’Amboise in France,
and never went back to Italy.
The young king and Leonardo would form a deep friendship
and the artist was given the king’s royal summer home Close Lucé
where he lived for the last three years of his life
– doing what he loved best, learning and creating.
He worked on architectural plans for a royal residence in central France,
and one of his masterpieces of this period is the double helix stairway at Chambord.
He brought dozens of notebooks like these with him to France,
but he also brought the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo knew how important it was,
he knew it was a masterpiece
– and he would continue to work on the painting
until his death in 1519.
Mona Lisa is the end product of the greatest inquisitive mind in history.
Leonardo anticipated theories by both Galileo and Newton.
His anatomical drawings are unparalleled
as are his botanical studies.
His treatise on painting explored radical new ideas
– as we shall see.
He designed war machines,
he used fossils to disprove biblical accounts of the flood,
and he had the skill to open the still-beating heart of a pig
to explain how ventricles work.
He was a man for whom science and art are complementary，
rather than distinct disciplines.
He believed that ideas formulated in one realm could
– and should, inform the other.
He would take all his scientific knowledge
and apply it to the Mona Lisa,
a portrait of an ordinary woman
that he would transform into a myth.
Often called “the first art historian”
Giorgio Vasari published his book about
the Renaissance artists in 1550, and in it,
he wrote the very first account of the painting，
“Leonardo undertook to execute for Francesco del Giacondo,
the portrait of Mona Lisa – his wife”.
There has always been a dispute about Mona Lisa’s true identity.
But in 2005 a German scholar found a handwritten comment
in the margins of a 15th century book
in Heidelberg university’s library.
It was dated october 1503
and was by Agostini Vespucci,
the secretary of Nicolo Machiavelli,
the writer of “The Prince”
and a good friend of Leonardo.
Vespucci notes that
“Leonardo was painting a portrait of Lisa del Giacondo”.
This is an eyewitness account
that firmly establishes not only the identity of Mona Lisa
but also the date when leonardo was working on the portrait.
Lisa Gherardini married Francesco del Giacondo in 1495.
She was 15 and he was 30.
Francesco was a nouveau riche silk merchant.
AndLisa was from an old noble family – with no money.
She had five children with him and lived a long, and it seems happy life.
她有五个孩子 丽莎很长寿 貌似很幸福
One of the great mysteries is why Leonardo, who was used to painting for royalty and Popes,
painted the wife of a bourgeois merchant?
– Leonardo’s father Ser Pierro da Vinci was Francesco’s lawyer,
and it was probably pressure from his father
that made Leonardo take on such a small commission.
But i think Leonardo painted her because he wanted to paint a relatively ordinary woman,
to try out new ideas without the fear of interference.
It gave him the unusual opportunity
to put all he knew about science and poetry of painting
into the commission.
Mona lisa would become a vehicle for all that he knew.
This high resolution scan taken by
art technician Pascal Cotte in 2004,
revealed that there is a similar sketch underneath,
reconstructed here as to how it might look.
The pose looks the same,
and it is quite possible that this is the face of the real Mona Lisa.
Leonardo worked on the painting for 16 years.
Knowing that it is Lisa del Giacondo
gives us more information to work with.
One example is, because we have Francesco’s will,
we know that Lisa owned a large amount of jewelry,
that is not shown in the painting and that
– as we shall see – is significant.
We can be sure that the mona lisa is
Lisa del Giocondo from Florence.
To say that aspects of the Mona Lisa
are just “happy accidents” that he just painted
and hoped for the best is to deny all the evidence
of a lifetime spent experimenting with techniques,
dissecting human bodies,
and collecting scientific and geological data.
For a painting with such a huge impact
it is surprisingly small at 77 by 53 centimeters
or 30 inches by 21.
For Mona Lisa Leonardo used a thin grain of poplar tree
and applied an undercoat of leadwhite,
rather than just a mix of chalk and pigment.
He wanted a reflective base.
Leonardo painted with semi-transparent glazes
that had a very small amount of pigment mixed with the oil,
so how dark you wanted your glaze to be,
depends on how much pigment you use.
He used more like a “wash”,
which he applied thin – layer by layer.
Here you can see two colours of contrast – light and dark.
When you apply thin glaze over both of them
you can see it starts to unify the contrast
but also brings depth and luminosity
The lead white undercoat reflects the light back through the glazes,
giving the picture more depth and in essence,
lighting Mona Lisa from within.
As we move around the painting
that light shifts around.
This microscopic cross section is taken from another Leonardo painting.
The first layer is the lead white ground.
Layer two is known as “Imprimatura”.
This layer gives the painting a transparent toned ground
which will allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the paint layers.
The imprimatura became widely used during the Renaissance.
Then we have a dark glaze
– and that is followed by various layers of different coloured glazes.
Scientific analysis shows us
that Leonardo used up to 30 different layers
of painted glaze on the Mona Lisa, applied so thinly
that it only totals 40 micrometers of paint!
That’s half the width of a human hair.
All of these layers applied differently,
with varying amounts of pigments
refract the light in unique ways.
He used tiny, almost invisible brush strokes
applied super slowly over months
– or in Mona Lisa’s case years.
By contrast on her skin
the brush strokes were applied in an irregular way
– and that makes the grain of the skin look more lifelike.
He also used the “Verdaccio” technique.
We see it here on one of his unfinished works.
He would use green as a base color
to produce nuanced flesh tones.
If you look down at your own hands,
there is a surprising amount of green showing through the skin.
This infraredimage taken in 2004 by the Louvre,
tells us a lotabout his techniques and use of paint.
We know the Mona Lisa was meticulously created
– nothing was accidental.
A technique he pioneered is “Chiaroscuro”,
where he contrast prominent shades of light and dark
to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.
Along with this, Leonardo used the “Sfumato” technique,
which he is credited as inventing.
Sfumato means “smokey”
and it is a blending technique
for softening the transition between colours.
To make sure there are no sharp, unnatural lines.
The soft blending creates an ambiguous mood,
particularly around the corners of the mouth and the corners of the eyes.
This means there are no hard edges anywhere on the Mona Lisa.
They are all blended in,
to form an ambiguous image.
You can see how the smile ends at each corner
– it simply tails away unresolved and open-ended.
We can demonstrate this with an X-ray.
If we put Raphael and Leonardo side by side,
an X-ray shows us that Raphael used clearly defined edges
whereas Leonardo’s figure disappears, as he uses none.
As Leonardo wrote:
“The eye never knows the edge of any body”.
This makes her facial expression “blurry” or “fuzzy”,
so that when we look at her,
we perceive the expression in different ways.
This, brings her to life.
Leonardo understood light as well as optics.
The man who had worked out the reflection of light from the Earth to the Moon,
had also studied how ratios of light and shade hit the face
according to the angle of impact.
And this knowledge combined with the Sfumato, the Chiaroscuro,
and the glazes which affect light refraction,
means she constantly changes
– through optical and perceptual illusion.
In essence these techniques take painting one stage further.
It allows us to look at a painting the way our eyes work.
It allows “depth of field” never seen in a painting before.
The best way to see how incredibly skilled Leonardo was,
is by looking at Mona Lisa’s gossamer thin veil.
Look at it for a bit.
On her forehead we can see the dark edges of the silk veil,
but the light of her skin shines through the translucent material.
But where the veil crosses the sky, it becomes darker and more visible.
He would have painted the background first
and then used a transparent glaze to paint the veil over it.
His representational skill is spectacular.
But his powers of observation are uncanny.
Actually let’s start with what she’s not wearing.
When was the last time you employed a professional photographer?
The answer is usually: A wedding or a prom.
What were you wearing in your prom photo?
Your best clothes? Your best jewellery? Of course!
Being painted by one of the most celebrated and in demand painters of the day,
is your chance to really “show off”
– and yet Mona Lisa is stripped of all the usual high status “symbols”.
Her clothes are nothing special, they tell us nothing.
Instead of the usual flamboyant, expensive outfits
we see in commissioned portraits,
hers are pretty simple for a wealthy woman.
Along with the complete lack of jewellery and the simple hair,
they serve one purpose
– and one purpose only.
Leonardo made sure
we would not be distracted from the face of Mona Lisa.
Let’s talk about her eyebrows, or lack thereof.
It’s not down to “fashion”.
She almost certainly once had them,
but over time with cleaning and restoration,
the most delicate parts of the painting – her eyebrows and eyelashes – have disappeared.
Copies of the painting produced by Leonardo’s own studio,
are a good source of information
on how she looked in 1503.
And here’s why.
Leonardo had a team of about six assistants and apprentices.
Workshops were training grounds for young artists
to learn their craft over several years.
And they begin by copying the masters works.
It’s how Leonardo, Michelangelo
and other great artists learnt.
By copying masters – then they developed their own style.
Multi-spectral analysis in 2004
by art technician Pascal Cotte, revealed that
Leonardo used a preparatory sketch
or a “Cartoon” to create the Mona Lisa,
using the “Spolvaro” technique, a similar idea to tracing.
It is a technique that Renaissance artists would use
to make lucrative copies of their paintings from an original drawing,
as well as copies for their students to work on.
Leonardo used the Spolvaro technique
to transfer his sketches of the Mona Lisa to a wooden panel.
More than once. With this technique,
holes are pricked along the outline of an original drawing known as a “Cartoon”
and then dusted with charcoal to produce an outline ready for painting.
The analysis shows faint traces of the charcoal drawing.
It is most obvious on her hands
where the scan shows us the charcoal pinpricks
used to trace the drawing onto the wood.
The same sketch would have been used as a base for his apprentice’s copies.
From these scans we also know
that as Leonardo made changes to his painting,
the pupil made the same changes to his copy.
The logical conclusion is
that the Prado Mona Lisa was painted by an apprentice
– side by side with Leonardo
-using the same pigments and the same adjustments
This copy was not really considered important
until it was restored in 2012,
and the original background was revealed.
Scientific examination tells us
it was painted by someone working in Leonardo’s studio
as an apprentice – and therefore under Leonardo’s supervision.
By use of infrared radiography we know
it is likely that it was created simultaneously in the same studio.
The Prado copy doesn’t have
the mystery of Leonardo’s achingly beautiful painting,
this is something that cannot be copied.
But the excellent state of conservation of the copy
gives us unique insights into the original painting,
which has become cracked and yellowed with age.
If we take the copy and overlay the two,
we get some idea of what the Mona Lisa might look like.
If it were possible to restore her.
Now we see the “rosy lips” described by Vasari in 1550,
and the “thin eyebrows and eyelashes” he wrote about.
Suggesting that indeed the Mona Lisa once had eyebrows.
Leonardo uses the classic “pyramid shape” composition
that was introduced during the Renaissance.
It is an important change from the paintings of the 15th century.
The structure provides stability,
but more importantly it provides a clear central focus,
and directs your gaze.
In Mona Lisa’s case, it is pulling us into her face.
Leonardo pioneered the use of the “three-quarter length pose”
rather than producing a full length portrait or the standard profile used at the time.
Because he completely fills the frame with his subject,
making the painting more intimate and cutting down on distractions.
This three-quarter length pose becomes the norm
in Italy for 400 years.
Today we look at Mona Lisa’s pose and it seems fairly “normal”.
But for its day it was groundbreaking.
Previously subjects were stiff and upright, aristocratic.
But Mona Lisa is relaxed,
her hands are resting gently on the arm of her chair,
as she turns towards us.
Almost as if it’s a “snapshot”.
Mona Lisa is also rather content and self-assured,
which was more how aristocratic men were portrayed,
The standard renaissance portraits of women were in profile
and they didn’t smile.
We are looking directly into her eyes and she is looking directly at us.
Women in paintings just didn’t do that.
They didn’t look boldly and directly at the viewer.
The entire painting deviated from the traditional way women were painted in Italy.
Portraits were usually drawn with an open sky as the background
– a monotone background – or a simple room.
Mona lisa is in front of a complicated landscape
that only existed in Leonardo’s imagination.
Paintings in this period had both the subject and the background in sharp focus.
Whereas the background of the Mona Lisa is hyper-realistic
and is created using an illusion of depth or recession.
This is “aerial perspective”.
Leonardo was the first to write about it,
and if he didn’t invent it,
then he certainly perfected it.
Behind Mona Lisa,
the vast landscape proceeds to distant icy mountains.
A path and a bridge are the only indication of human presence.
The curves of her hair and clothing
reflect the rolling valleys and rivers behind her,
connecting humanity and nature.
Microcosm and macrocosm, a favourite theme of Leonardo’s.
He used his pioneering studies of hydrodynamics,
not only to explain how an aortic valve closed,
but also to explain the weight, volume and direction of the curls of hair.
The twist of the earth parallels her torso.
Look at the river on the right.
It flows into the scarf over her left shoulder
and we see that she is connected with the earth.
Even the background is informed by science.
This time of “sedimentary layers” he studied in the Apennines.
that the world is far older than Genesis claims.
His knowledge of geology
ensures that there are no accidents in his plotting of the background.
And yet the horizon of the landscape
does not quite line up behind the figure.
It is very slightly “skewed”,
while her shoulders are painted level.
This is a typical Leonardo visual trick
that gives an illusion of movement.
Leonardo knew that
our brains would struggle with this conflicting visual information:
We know that the horizon should line up
so we read it as level.
This causes us to interpret the shoulders as being on a slant
– which they are not.
As our brain corrects this,
it creates an illusion of movement,
as if the figure “shuffles” a bit in its frame.
Lisa’s eyes are in fact looking to her left,
but step back and she is looking directly at us.
If your screen is big enough,
move to the right and left.
Her eyes follow you.
This effect only works with two-dimensional images,
since the elements of perspective and light and shadow
are fixed and don’t change.
They look the same, no matter from what angle you are standing.
It is a real phenomenon,
but not unique to this painting.
Then there is the smile that pulls everything together.
Before, during and long after the Renaissance,
artists did not paint their subjects smiling.
When you think about it, portraits are generally very serious.
It’s easy enough to smile for a few minutes,
but not for the weeks
if not months it takes to paint a portrait.
And yet despite the scarcity of a smile in paintings,
Leonardo almost makes it his signature.
It is said that Leonardo kept Lisa happy
by employing musicians and jesters.
Look at her for a while. Really look into her eyes.
First she is smiling and then she is not.
The smile “comes and goes” as we scan around the face.
When we look away the smile lingers.
When Leonardo was perfecting Lisa’s smile,
he was spending his nights in the morgue
peeling the flesh off cadavers
and exposing the muscles and nerves underneath.
He became fascinated by “how a smile works”
and analysed every possible movement of each part of the face.
Working out the origins of every nerve which controls the facial muscles.
Here we see two partially dissected faces in profile.
They show the muscles which control the lips and other elements of expression.
In the one on the left,
Leonardo has removed part of the jawbone to expose the muscle
which pulls back the angle of the mouth,
and flattens the cheek – as a smile begins to form.
Leonardo reveals the actual mechanisms
that transmit emotions into facial expressions.
Here are puckered lips, pouting lips,
the muscles that move the mouth.
Then almost forgotten at the top of this page is a simple drawing
of a gentle smile sketched lightly in black chalk.
Even though the fine lines at the end of the mouth turn down slightly,
the feeling is that the lips are smiling.
This simple anatomical drawing is the beginning of Mona Lisa smile.
Astonishingly Leonardo had studied
the 11th century Islamic physicist Al-Hazen,
whose pioneering theories on the psychology of visual perception
inspired his own work on optics.
Leonardo knew from his optic studies,
that light rays do not come to a single point in the eye,
but instead hit the whole area of the retina
– and this is the key to her enigmatic smile.
“Her expression changes as you look at this painting…”
In the year 2000, Dr. Margaret Livingston,
a Harvard neuroscientist discovered
that MonaLisa’s smile changes
because of how the human visual system is designed.
She explains that the human eye has two distinct regions for seeing the world:
A central area called the “Fovea” is where people see colours,
read fine print and pick out details.
And the peripheral area surrounding the Foveais
where people see black and white, motion and shadows.
When we look at a face,
we spend most of the time focused on the other person’s eyes
using central vision.
So when a person’s center of gaze is on Mona Lisa’s eyes,
the less accurate peripheral vision,
is on her mouth.
And because peripheral vision is not interested in “specific details”,
it also picks up shadows from Mona Lisa’s cheekbones.
This is where both his Sfumato and Chiaroscuro techniques come into their own.
Keep looking directly into her eyes.
The shadows and tones suggest the curvature of a smile,
but when your eyes go directly to Mona Lisa’s mouth,
your central vision doesn’t see the shadows
and she isn’t smiling – smirking at best.
You can prove this theory quite simply
by scanning back and forth between her eyes and her lips,
and her expression changes.
That is not your imagination
it is all to do with how we “see”, not how we “think”.
The genius of Leonardo, is that he understood this 500 years ago!
Some claim that the Mona Lisa is only well known
because she was once stolen.
This is nonsense.
As previously noted,
Mona Lisa, was seen as a gteat painting, right from the start.
In 1797 she was moved to the Louvre,
where Napoleon saw her and decided he “had to have her”.
So in 1800,
he had her moved to his private bedroom in the Tuilleries.
Already the Mona Lisa was a “masterpiece”
fit for Europe’s greatest leader.
the first engravings of Mona Lisa were made – and sold
– adding to her popularity.
And in 1854
the first photograph was taken of her.
Charles Baudelaire, George Sand and Jules Verne
were amongst many to write about her.
And in 1867, the art critic Theophile Gautier
published a popular article
“praising her mysterious smile and her eyes that hid secrets”.
While Baedeker guidebooks told tourists as early as the 1870s
that she was “the most celebrated work of Leonardo in the Louvre”.
She was being mass produced and written about extensively.
Mona Lisa was already on her way to becoming known worldwide.
And then she was stolen.
On the 21st of August 1911,
Vincenzo Perugia,a petty criminal,
stole the Mona Lisa and took her to Italy.
It was not until the next afternoon
that anyone realized the painting had been stolen,
fuelling the idea that nobody cared
– but the truth (as always) was simpler.
The Louvre was cataloguing its collection
and museum staff believed that she had been removed to be photographed.
Suspects, including Picasso
who was living in Paris at the time, were rounded up
– but no answers were found.
In fact the Mona Lisa was missing for over two years,
during which people lined up around the block
to look at the empty space where she once was.
Perugia was eventually arrested
and the Mona Lisa was recovered.
But why did he steal the Mona Lisa rather than any of the other paintings?
The answer (again) is simple. Because it was the most well-known.
So for sure her fame grew enormously after she was stolen
– but it did not begin in 1911.
Something else to consider
is that it was only by this time that photography was becoming commonplace.
Suddenly thanks to the press,
millions of people who might not have seen it in person,
might never have even heard of it,
soon became “experts” on Leonardo’s stolen painting.
What really cemented her fame
was her 1963 visit to the U.S.
This made global headlines, and television
brought the Mona Lisa into the livingroom of billions.
In the same year,
Andy Warhol reflected on her transformation
from a painting into a “celebrity icon”.
So yes, the theft made her more well-known
and the U.S. tour made her a global “celebrity”.
But regardless of all this,
the Mona Lisa was always considered a masterpiece
and would have become famous
in the same way “The Birth of Venus”
or “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” did.
The Mona Lisa, is an image that is so “familiar”
that it has been stripped of meaning.
Her “celebrity” status is a distraction
from what a masterpiece she really is.
In an era in which we are bombarded with images,
it is more important than ever to stop – and look again.
Whether she is “Mona Lisa”,
“La Giaconda” or “La Jaconde”,
she is the face of a revolution in art.
The Mona Lisa embodies Leonardo da Vinci’s belief
that everything is connected.
He had the ability to combine intellect with imagination.
Art and science are perfectly blended in a single work,
that may have started as a “simple portrait” of a bourgeois woman
but has become something much more poetic something “universal”.
Leonardo once said
that “Art is never finished – just abandoned”，
and it would seem apt
that a painting created by a man who never stopped learning
still manages to teach us something
– 500 years after he created it.
Despite all the myths and legends surrounding her,
we ARE learning more and more about her
through science and studies.
One day we may see the Mona Lisa
exactly the way Leonardo saw her.
Some people are disappointed