Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




The Demonic Enchantment of a Smile

The secret of the Mona Lisa



The lady smiles with regal serenity. Her instinct for conquest, for cruelty, the whole legacy of her sex, the will to seduce, to enmesh in deceptive wiles, the apparent goodness concealing malicious intentions - all this appears and disappears behind a veil of serenity to be lost in the poetry of her smile. Smiling, she is good and evil, cruel and merciful, gentle and cat-like.

Angelo Conti, On the Mona Lisa, 1909



The most influential genius of his rime: Leonardo da Vinci, Self-Portrait, с 1516


Is she cold-hearted? Soulless? Seductive? "Hundreds of poets and men of letters have written on this woman. And none of them has solved the enigma of her smile, none has read her thoughts", to quote an essay written by Angelo Conti. Attempts at interpretation are legion, yet none is satisfying. Some see "the embodiment of all the love experienced in the history of civilisation", others "the narcissistic traits of Leonardo himself ". Even the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, felt compelled to comment on the Mona Lisa: "If one thinks of Leonardo's pictures, the recollection of the beguiling and enigmatic smile that he has magically conjured on to the lips of his female figures comes to mind. An unchanging smile on long, curving lips: it has become the distinctive feature of his work and is usually called 'Leonardesque'. The exotic, beautiful face of the Mona Lisa is most captivating to the spectator and confounds his wits." Even Freud was forced to admit defeat: "Let us leave the enigma of the Mona Lisa's countenance unresolved."

We do know something about the artist's model. She was known as Mona, or Monna, which means "Madam", Lisa del Giocondo.

Born in 1479, she married the respectable cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo and lived in Florence. There she was noticed, at the age of twenty-four, by Leonardo da Vinci, who was twice her age. An extraordinarily gifted painter, sculptor, draughtsman, architect, natural scientist and engineer, he was arguably the greatest genius of his age. Giorgio Vasari, who founded the discipline of art history, understated the unparalleled powers of this polymath and universal genius when he referred to him as "most admirable and divinely gifted". He is said to have worked on the Mono Lisa for three years, using the most sophisticated techniques to distract his model so that he might capture that enigmatic smile.


Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)
c. 1503-5
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa (detail)



see also:



Salvador Dali. Self Portrait as Mona Lisa. 1954
Photographic elements by Philippe Halsman



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