Mona Lisa Smile – An exaggerated Secret


June 13, 2013Blog1 Comment

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Mona Lisa, a name which is heard by almost everyone who have heard Leonardo da Vinci’s name. On internet they have become synonyms to each-other. Just like Einstein and E=mc­­2­­.

Mona Lisa is the most visited painting on the earth. Yearly, 6 million people visits the Louvre and how many of them, do you think, would skip Mona Lisa? Many would have the Mona Lisa as the reason to visit the Museum in Paris.

The reason of the fame is its secret smile. They say the smile is suspicious and no one understands if the woman in the painting is smiling or not. Researchers say Leonardo used a special technic called Sfumato to make the smile suspicious. Well, maybe, he deliberately used the technique. But did he intentionally make it mysterious as we know it today? Or it was just a blurring technique to make the colors more natural.

The painting doesn’t show any clear brush-strokes as the study indicates and the transition of colors from the light to dark area is so good that, we can say it represents the masterly ability of Leonardo in paintings. Sfumato is really a revolutionary technique to smooth the clear lines.

But, about the mystery, maybe he tried to make it suspicious or the controversies made the smile more suspicious. I mean, after hearing all the theories and thesis on her smile, you cannot look at the painting simply as a work of art and admire its artistic abilities the same way you would admire any other prolific painting.

Controversies gives enormous importance to situation, people or things, which sometimes they don’t deserve or sometimes totally goes in wrong direction leaving the main substance of the subject aside. The same could be true in Mona Lisa’s case.

Before 1911, Mona Lisa wasn’t famous in its own gallery in the Louvre, until it was stolen in the same year by an Italian patriot, who believed that Mona Lisa should come home, as it was wrongly taken by Napoleon Bonaparte around 1800. The theft made the thief a hero in his own country and the painting…as we know it, a Legend!

Yes, believe it or not, it was after the theft, when the researchers and artists started to give so much attention to the painting. One fact about its importance before the theft is that in 1852, the value of the painting was assumed around 90,000 francs compared to Raphael’s works which measured around 600,000 francs at the time.

Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille

Le rire by Eugene Bataille 1883 ( aka Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe)

Controversy, the same idea which our film-stars use to get over-night fame or publicity for their movies, was also the case with Mona Lisa. After the theft and instant publicity, many artists started to draw their own versions of Mona Lisa. Before 1911, there is only one example of such modified depiction, Le rire (also known as Mona Lisa with a Pipeby Eugene Bataille in 1883 (shown on right). Other notable artists who made their versions of Mona Lisa are Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol. Today, people recreate Mona Lisa with unimaginable ideas.

After the fame, researcher started to take apart the whole painting. Gradually, they observed the whole painting from different angles and someone came up with the idea that the smile is secretive, just because he found some mystery in it.

I am not talking without backup. Today everyone believes in researched data. Because most of the things nowadays reproduced are based on researches and results.

Now a scientist from University of Amsterdam, Nicu Sebe, used a computer program to interpret Mona Lisa’s secretive smile. The program was capable to differentiate the human emotions. When Sebe put Mona Lisa’s face against the camera, program gave this result:

83% Happy,

9% Disgusted,

6% Fearful &

2% Angry

It’s a big question whether you believe the computer results or not. But, the continuity of the mystery suggests the nature of human interests. People love secrets. Any mystery would catch people’s eyes instantly. Maybe that’s the reason the mystery of Mona Lisa smile is a mystery and will survive until people get bored about it.

One Response to “Mona Lisa Smile – An exaggerated Secret”
  1. V Ramamurthy IAS Rtd

    Very interesting & highly readable. I started with Yousuf Karsh of Ottawa and his lighting techniques in portraiture. Learnt about SFUMATO as one of the techniques of Renaissance painters. I was familiar only with CHIAROSCURO earlier. Da Vinci the Great’s Mona Lisa (La Giaconda) which I have seen in the Louvre. The mystery of her smile. Thank you, Wikipedia for taking me on this adventure of learning. I hardly miss my daily morning stroll with you. God bless

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