Mona Lisa. She’s been the subject of much contemplation, consideration, conspiracy theories, and she’s considered Leonardo DaVinci’s greatest masterpiece. I’ve got a little bit of a different take on her and what ol’ Leo intended. And I think he’s gotten the last laugh because, if what I suspect was truly coming from that genius mind, his artful concept worked!
We know much about her, but certainly not all. We know much about the painting itself and what it’s comprised of. We’re still not quite sure who the subject is who sat for this painting and, with our modern technology, we know that he painted over the top of another woman in similar position. We know that the background landscape doesn’t match anything we currently know of, but does bear some resemblances to a few different places. We look to her and the painting to give us clues as to her importance, we search her face for hidden messages…
But let’s ignore her for a little bit and look at the man who painted her to discover a little bit more about him. Even though you’re probably thinking that there’s really nothing more to discover, let’s consider his patterns:
- He innovated.
- He invented.
- He abandoned projects.
- He used logic.
- He used math.
- He pushed boundaries.
It’s interesting to me that he stated, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” because I believe that this is ultimately what he achieved with Mona Lisa. With patterns showing he’s not only a genius but also a bit of a rebel, we have to ask why this particular painting is finished because one of his signature patterns is abandoning projects. What was he actually trying to accomplish? Mona Lisa goes against four of his six patterns. It’s neither inventive nor innovative to paint a portrait of a woman. There’s no boundaries pushed that he hadn’t already pushed in other paintings, so the rebellious aspect of his personality wouldn’t have been satiated with this painting.
He finished her. By several accounts, he finished her a few different times, in fact.
If a person’s intent is to achieve the ultimate sophistication, just what was he after with this painting, then? What do we do when we see it – even copies of it? Why does it fascinate us so? What do we think? The underlying question for each person always comes back to, “What is she thinking?”
Women of the Renaissance were, essentially, property. They existed to bear male heirs. Beyond that, they were jewelry on the arm of men. They were not consulted about anything beyond the mediocrity of keeping a household. Women were an afterthought; just as a chair, the tree in the front yard, the horse, the dog – all considered to be afterthoughts and thus less important than men.
For Leonardo Da Vinci to have us asking *even now,* “What is she thinking,” is something innovative. It’s inventive. It’s pushing the boundaries. The art isn’t the painting itself. The art is that he got us all to wonder what a piece of property was thinking. The art is so simple that it is, indeed, the ultimate sophistication. What he accomplished in that masterpiece is unexpected and one that escapes most:
And he planted that thought in your brain by having you ask a simple question, “What is she thinking?”
THAT is his greatest achievement – his greatest art and his legacy.
PS: I’m blogging along with Effy Wild in April. If you’d like to join the facebook group to read the rules, go here: