On 23rd June 1952, a French artist named Luc Maspero threw himself off from the fourth floor of a hotel building in Paris to death.
The reason, as his suicide note read, was that
‘For years I have grappled desperately with her smile. I prefer to die’.
He was obsessed with the smile of Mona Lisa, and as he couldn’t comprehend the mystery of her smile, he decided to end his inability to be discerning enough to catch the esoteric smile.
This could explain us very well the mystery enshrouded in the smile of Mona Lisa, one of the most mysterious paintings our civilization has ever witnessed. Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian scholar painted Mona Lisa, known in Italian as La Gioconda, on a 77 cm x 53 cm sized Lombardy poplar wooden panel during the years between 1503 and 506.
The painting remained with him until his death and had become one of the most researched-about portraits in the human history.
What makes the portrait very controversial as it is? There are many answers that are still debated when quizzed about the painting. Who is Mona Lisa -as Mona refers to Madam, it is Madam Lisa- the subject of the painting?
What does her smile signify or is she really carrying a smile on her face or is it the mastery of Leonardo’s painting strokes that gives the illusion of an enigmatic smile?
Five hundred years after the creation of the painting, these questions still bring a lot of answers to the researchers qualifying it to have the significance it has today. But certainly, there is more to what is readily available to grasp from the smile of Mona Lisa.
The painting Mona Lisa is visited by 6 million viewers every day at Louvre in London.
Who is Mona Lisa or Madam Lisa?
Until 2005, there were a lot of speculations about the main subject or the sitter of the portrait. In 2005, a Heidelberg University scholar found a piece of writing in which an Italian clerk known by the name Agostino Vespucci says that Leonardo has been working on the portrait of Lisa de Giocondo.
She was the third wife of a Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo and the painting was made to celebrate the occasion of the birth of their second son in a new home.
Even today many scholars do not agree on the main sitter of the portrait. Some significant of the many speculations about the subject are the Duchess of Milan, the Queen of France- Isabella of Aragon, and Duchess of Francavilla. The list goes on.
Some other suggest that the painting is a self-portrait of Leonardo himself as the facial characteristics of the painter closely resemble that of the subject in the painting, as exposed by a digital analysis.
When Mona Lisa was stolen on 21st August 1911, Pablo Picasso was accused of the theft by French poet Apollinaire, who was speculated to have involved in the theft, as he once said that Louvre should be burnt down.
The Mysterious Smile
Adding to the controversy about the identity of the subject, the smile she carries brings more bewilderment to the cryptic painting. Many believe that she smiles while the rest say it is not a very prominent smile that can be counted as a graceful heartfelt smile.
Many say it is the acumen of the painter that creates a duality to the smile of the charming lady in the portrait. And his brilliance is not without the backing of science. The central and the peripheral vision of the human eyes play the trick here.
The former vision, also known as the foveal vision, pays attention to the fine details of what is seen while the latter is used by the human eye to organize what is gazed by the fovea into a spatial visual scene.
To be less ambiguous, when you look at the portrait, your central vision falls on her eyes and the peripheral vision interprets the motion of the brush strokes around her mouth as a smile.
As your vision slowly moves towards her mouth, the smile just disappears, bringing the conundrum of whether she smiled or not.
Indeed, it is a technique called as sfumato that was introduced and deployed by Leonardo which involves subtle, blurry strokes that create an illusion of depth and gives the viewer the freedom to imagine and interpret the painting.
The painting of Mona Lisa was valued at $760 million in 2012, making it the most valuable painting in the world.
Mona Lisa’s message?
Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most controversial renaissance figures in history for his cryptic paintings.
His paintings are interpreted to carry a message that goes against the biblical events. Is there such a message in Mona Lisa. There could be.
Had the portrait been made on demand by the Silk merchant’s wife, it should have been delivered to the lady, but the painting remained with da Vinci for his life because the portrait was very close to his heart, say researchers.
As he was driven by science, he had spent his nights investigating cadavers at Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, the oldest that is still functional in Florence, Italy. He was trying to study the origin of life and thus Mona Lisa could be an answer of his observations.
The role of females in creation is more significant than men, and this idea was not endorsed by the biblical preaching. Leonardo was expressing his views on the role of females in creation through the portrait of Mona Lisa.
Sherwin Nuland, an expert of da Vinci’s anatomical studies, say that it is quite evident from the painting that the main subject was in her early days of pregnancy that can be interpreted from her swollen fingers and her hands folded little above her abdomen.
Professor Martin Kemp, also an art historian from the University of Oxford agrees to the idea that Mona Lisa was carrying a life, at the time of the portrait.
Conforming to this idea, it is discovered that the second child of Lisa was born in December 1502, which falls in the time during which Leonardo started painting the portrait. The painting could be a result of his search for the truth about the source of life.
He would have been convinced with his observations that made him retain the painting until his death till 1519 without delivering it to Lisa. Anyhow, all these events are only speculations. But, Leonardo da Vinci still blows our minds with his paintings, even after half a millennium.
Featured Image Source: CNN