Category: 

What Is the Mystery Behind the Mona Lisa?

The Mona Lisa.
A portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci, who painted the Mona Lisa.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Aniza Pourtauborde
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 21 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
The World Health Organization classified air pollution as more dangerous to health than smoking.   more...

July 25 ,  1978 :  The world's first in-vitro fertilization baby was born.  more...

Every year, about 6 million people visit the Musée du Louvre in Paris to see Leonardo Da Vinci's famous portrait, Mona Lisa. An oil painting on poplar wood, the portrait was started by Da Vinci in 1503 and took about four years to complete, although he is believed to have continued working on it even after that. For centuries afterward, his talent and ingenuity sparked many debates and a multitude of theories in an effort to uncover the mysteries behind the Mona Lisa. The two biggest mysteries are her identity and the nature of her smile.

Who is Mona Lisa?

Many questions arose over the years as to the true identity of the woman in the portrait. The Italians call her La Gioconda, which means "the lighthearted woman." The French version, La Joconde, carries a similar meaning, provoking many thoughts and theories about the Mona Lisa. Most experts now believe that she is Lisa del Giocondo, the third wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo.

Ad

The title Mona Lisa is discussed in Da Vinci's biography, written and published by Giorgio Vasari in 1550. Vasari identified Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting and pointed out that mona is commonly used in place of the Italian word madonna, which could be translated into English as "madam." Hence, the title Mona Lisa simply means "Madam Lisa." In addition, a note written by an Italian government clerk named Agostino Vespucci in 1503 identified Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the painting.

Still, some experts believe that Lisa del Giocondo actually was the subject of another painting, leaving the identity of the woman in Mona Lisa in question. One popular theory suggests that she is the Duchess of Milan, Isabella of Aragon. Da Vinci was the family painter for the Duke of Milan for 11 years and could very well have painted the Duchess as the Mona Lisa.

Other researchers have stated that the painting could depict a mistress of Giuliano de' Medici, who reigned in Florence from 1512 to 1516, or various other women. A more recent thought is that it is the feminine version of Da Vinci himself. Digital analysis has revealed that Da Vinci's facial characteristics and those of the woman in the painting are almost perfectly aligned with one another.

How Does She Smile?

The enigmatic smile of the woman in the painting has been the source of inspiration for many and a cause for desperation in others. In 1852, Luc Maspero, a French artist, jumped four floors to his death from a hotel room in Paris. His suicide note explained that he preferred death after years of struggling to understand the mystery behind the woman's smile.

When discussing the mystery behind the smile, art experts often refer to a painting technique called sfumato, which was developed by Da Vinci. In Italian, sfumato means "vanished" or "smoky," implying that the portrait is ambiguous and blurry, leaving its interpretation to the viewer's imagination. This technique uses a subtle blend of tones and colors to produce the illusion of form, depth and volume.

The human eye consists of two regions: the fovea, or central area, and the surrounding peripheral area. The fovea recognizes details and colors and reads fine print, and the peripheral area identifies motion, shadows and black and white. When a person looks at the painting, the fovea focuses on her eyes, leaving the peripheral area on her mouth. Peripheral vision is less accurate and does not pick up details, so the shadows in her cheekbones augment the curvature of her smile.

When the viewer looks directly at the woman's mouth, however, the fovea does not pick up the shadows, and the portrait no longer appears to be smiling. Therefore, the appearance and disappearance of her smile really is an attribute of viewers' vision. This is one of the reasons why the painting has remained an enigma to art enthusiasts and perhaps the most famous painting in the world.

Ad

Discuss this Article

anon961983
Post 107

For me, the figure in the portrait is a witch. It looks like a real person looking at you all the time. If you look at her long enough, you will see that the expression in all his faces are always changing. It really has a dark side. Having this portrait in a house represents "we are always watching you" or some kind of cult of "people with a long established power". If you see it we are alert.

anon955680
Post 106

Is she actually smiling? I don't think so.

anon949795
Post 105

Actually, many questions keep on bothering on my mind about the mystery smile of Mona Lisa and why it is a very big deal to other people. I'm seeking a concrete answer that would really answer my questions. But I think its impossible since there are many speculations about the mystery smile of Mona Lisa. I'm hoping that in browsing the internet I could find real answers that could help me to finish my thesis in school about this topic.

anon926263
Post 102

Mona Lisa is supposed to be actually a painting formed from the face of a man or male figure. --Landon

anon346355
Post 98

Has it occurred to anyone that the woman in this painting, while initially Lisa del Giocondo as the model or sitter, ended up being a composite representation of many women, of the feminine itself? I believe the thing that touches heart strings most strongly is an allusion to the godliness of the woman, perhaps harking back to a goddess of creation and procreation, which almost every culture has had.

A purpose Leonard da Vinci shared with his era was to forward and achieve enlightenment. I believe he was demonstrating in this portrait that enlightenment need not conflict with earlier themes of "goddessliness," but was in fact underscoring the phenomenon for people of the Renaissance.

Women have sung for years the old tune, "would you rather be loved or be respected by a man?" Leonardo chose to respect women, and so I don't believe he ever had a sexually active affair with Lisa Giocondo, although he may have had deep feelings for her.

Modern film has picked up on this idea of using a composite character. Many protagonists in films are considered fiction, when in fact they are actually composite representations of more than just a single real person. Collectively, they illustrate an idea to enlighten us. I believe this is the same tool Leonardo used, and that is the solution to the mystery. Contemporary women are to be admired, honored, loved and respected, and can have goddess-like qualities.

anon343590
Post 97

The smile isn't the mystery. It's the painting itself, as I've heard.

anon342369
Post 95

It surprises me that no one has identified the image as a representation of the ideal woman pursuant to the prevailing culture at the time. There was a author during that period by the name of Castiglione (can't remember his first name) who was the arbiter of social correctness. In his book, he describes how women should properly smile. A smile was to be ambiguous --a semi-serious come on, not quite discernible, i.e., mysterious. The eyes were to be taunting, but a non-committing tease. Laughing out loud was considered vulgar. The teeth were not to show -- perhaps due to flaws and unavailable cosmetic dentistry. The foreheads were shaved to make them higher, since a high forehead was a considered indicative of high intelligence. Soft, long fingered hands symbolized gentility and were an item of beauty.

However, I've been looking around trying to ascertain why DaVinci's faces are all alike.

anon325038
Post 93

The Mona Lisa is by far the most mysterious work of art I have ever come across. Da Vinci is indeed a legend!

anon311475
Post 88

Why is Mona Lisa called the sacred smile?

anon310919
Post 87

I saw on the National Geographic channel that The Mona Lisa has one letter on both eyes, and it is L and S the L means Leonardo and the S means Salai, Salai is the young lover of Leonardo Davinci (Salai is a man not a woman), and if you mix up the name Mona Lisa you will come up of Mon Salai, Mon Salai means little devil and Leonardo called his young lover Little devil.

If you look closer you can see a bridge. The bridge is called "The Devil's Bridge" and the bridge has two numbers, 7 and 2. The 7 means that God created us in 7 days and the two means Male and Female, Leonardo Davinci turned the the face of Salai into a woman in his painting Mona Lisa because in the Renaissance period you couldn't be a homosexual. If you were, it could cost you your life.

anon308382
Post 86

In the original painting, she had eyebrows. It's just misuse due to cleaning the painting and because it is so old, they’ve worn off.

Da vinci claims it was the portrait of a family's daughter, but people also say it was really his face. But recently, architects are saying they’ve found the bones of Mona Lisa. So who knows?

anon291555
Post 85

Maybe he created a picture first behind the picture of Mona Lisa, and then, purposely, he then traced to paint the Mona Lisa, for example, he drew a person/animal first, maybe a boy/girl, or maybe objects, then afterwards, he continued on drawing, tracing the drawing, thus, creating the picture of a girl, which he choose to name Mona Lisa. And you notice, there are no eyebrows when you zoom in closer.

anon281836
Post 83

She wasn't real. People still talk about her today and

people say DaVinci painted himself as a girl. There's a big secret hidden behind a small thing.

anon281732
Post 82

Why did Mona Lisa did not have an eyebrow?

anon280664
Post 81

Why did Leonardo da Vinci did not put an ear in the painting?

anon259888
Post 78

I read "The da Vinci Code" and I agree with Dan Brown that Mona Lisa is neither male nor female. Even its name is made up of Greek god and goddess names: Mona Amon and Lisa is Iris's other name.

anon257797
Post 77

I think he was hiding some code, but we just haven't discovered it yet. In my opinion, she is smiling, though I don't think about her 'pregnancy.' Just my opinion, though.

anon251620
Post 72

I'm really looking for info on the hidden scarf that was in the painting to tell people that she had a successful birth.

anon249764
Post 71

He is such am amazing painter and it wish I could meet him for inspiration.

anon245103
Post 70

I think that if we look at her eyes they show pain and that "she" was having problems and that she's hiding them with a small smile and she tries to let it appear just a little bit. I also thing that this painting is Da Vinci imagining himself as a women because practically they have the same eyes, and he couldn't paint himself as a man because there's a hidden message behind it.

As for the reflection in her eyes, some people said he could be using a mirror. Well, he might be using one to try and copy his face in a feminine way.

trw
Post 69

"A good painter has two main objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul..." Da Vinci. I agree with Post 47 because you get it. The Mona Lisa is exactly what Da Vinci captured -- the intention of this woman's soul. He canvased a smile that was protruding through her eyes, even more so than on her lips. Absolute genius!

anon245023
Post 68

The bottom line is Mona Lisa's smile is not a mystery, not in the sense of if she is smiling or not smiling. She is definitely smiling with her lips but in a very soft, subtle and gentle way. However, models have a thing they do where they smile with 'their eyes'. The genius of DaVinci was that he was able to capture this woman 'smiling through and into her eyes' from her soul. The eyes are the window into the soul. The mystery (if you want one) is that whatever she was thinking and feeling as she sat there, resonated through her eyes, more so than to her lips.

I reiterate, the supernatural genius of DaVinci was able to capture or grab *it*, the invisible smile, that was hidden away in her soul by putting it on a canvas.

anon236108
Post 67

The hidden images and decryption of the Mona Lisa is in this book, published in April 2011, in Paris: "Isis, the Mona Lisa revealed."

anon198150
Post 66

Mona lisa's great! I really appreciate da vinci for creating such a mysterious masterpiece.

anon198148
Post 65

I'd like to know more about mona lisa? Was the lady in the painting, as I've heard, pregnant? I really don't find anything special about her smile. Please specify the details mentioned in the painting.

anon191499
Post 63

I am curious about where some of the posters find their information. I would like to read the sources from which they take their information.

anon176966
Post 60

did anyone notice on her forehead? if you look closely, it looks like someone had worn a mask and it's not the real face.

anon174701
Post 59

i can't understand something. Was the lady really been sitting there as and when required by leonardo? I mean it's three to four years' painting duration..

What i want to know is that, is it a real life painting or just an imaginary one being depicted in the form of an ideal lady?

her face is not so womanly. Or could it have been leonardo imagining himself as a woman.

anon174286
Post 58

I believe Mona Lisa or whoever she is,is not alone in the picture. It may be that this was in imaginary painting but shadows have been depicted to make it look like, yes, this is as a real life painting.

anon174282
Post 57

the background is not one and the same. It's not up to the same level. It's just a mixture of landscapes, but its a really enigmatic smile. Quite a serious smile, but something is surely amiss about her eyes.

anon164999
Post 56

In my opinion there is no real evidence that da vinci, painted himself and referred to it as "mona lisa". Only he knows the so-called "mystery" behind her smile.

Have any of you people considered why you are asking how she smiled? Just think: you see pictures of anyone in the world and guess what? They're smiling. Well, most of the time.

But what i am saying is, maybe she smiled because she felt like it, could not be a smile at all. No one knows, and more than likely will never figure out the secret to the mona lisa smile. It was so far back in time, why don't we just leave the picture alone and let it be a mystery for many, many, many more years? Trust me, by then it will be worth a lot more.

anon158455
Post 52

Could it be his imagination?

anon157458
Post 50

Da Vinci is known for his in detailed work, highly accurate, gift in painting and also, imagination. I think this painting was more towards his version of the perfect woman and during those times, a notable woman is those who have numerous secrets but will not talk about them. Kind of embodies the phrase "Knowledge is power". I believe that smile is only a glimpse to show that her knowledge is vast but will forever remain a secret and a mystery.

anon157258
Post 48

I just want to share my observation. Look in Mona lisa's eyes. Just the eyes: focus on them. You will find that she is not really smiling. Her eyes seems so different (look in the mirror and see your eyes when you smile) and it looks like she is mad. Then, after looking to the eyes, look to her smile. Just my observation, but focus on her eyes.

anon154700
Post 47

"A good painter has two main objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul..." Da Vinci.

It is not important who Mona Lisa was, the beauty of this painting is the intention of her soul which is what Da Vinci was so drawn to. He seemed to have used the same intention in another painting (which was very dear to him), John the Baptist. He definitely knew something which we still haven't figured out.

anon153084
Post 46

the secret behind the painting of mona lisa is that leonardo da vinci was in love with mona lisa as she was his dream girl.

anon149333
Post 44

i read somewhere that mona lisa was actually a man?

anon145078
Post 42

Dan Brown, LOL. Do some research for yourself. Dan Brown, while a smart man, has duped more people than the Masons, Illuminati, and the UFO nuts combined!

anon137060
Post 40

Can anyone tell me the mystery about the background of mona lisa's painting? i can't quite identify it.

anon133773
Post 39

If you zoom in to her left eye, you will see a single brush stroke, representing an eyebrow hair. Not discovered by me, but by Pascal Cotte.

anon116614
Post 32

When i look at the painting, i started to feel that this painting was supposed to be a portrait of two people. when looking at the painting, just above her right elbow there is a dark shade, which i feel is an elbow of the another person.

anon104225
Post 31

I second what the person in Post 3 said. I believe this is true as well because Da Vinci took this painting with him on all his travels and it meant a lot to him.

anon103792
Post 30

Lisa G. was no duchess. She was a hired model who sat for Leonardo while he tried to complete a commissioned portrait of Isabella D'Este, who wanted one very badly and he had promised it to her. It does look just like her - which is a problem, since Isabella disliked all accurate portraits of herself.

anon100245
Post 29

if you see closely at the portrait online, you will notice a semi-circle dark image near her right elbow. It seems like an elbow of a another person or a small head of a kid as there also seems to be ear-like figures over there. Check it out!

anon94490
Post 28

it's kind of spooky reading all of this. i notice she has something like a scarf on her head. it might be something related to the background?

anon81848
Post 27

Mona Lisa is a painting with many questions. It's the smirky little smile. What is it that it's attracting people? Mona Lisa is just a weird, questionable painting.

I don't know what Da Vinci was thinking when painting that smile -- and not a pretty one. The painting itself is mysterious in which I'm curious about. What is the sense of looking for a mystery of such painting? Why is the Mona Lisa smile super important? Who decided for it to be so mysterious?

Is the Mona Lisa smile mystery a technique for the French so that they can get the money from a lot of people so that their economy continues to grow?

Mona Lisa is from the greek god and goddess amun and lisa. The painting symbolizes their union. Amon was mixed around to spell Mona.I read that the Mona Lisa was a self portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci.

anon78161
Post 26

i personally believe Mona Lisa's portrait was one of the greatest achievements as a painter by Da Vinci, and because the old wise man left the earth and left his paintings behind for us to appreciate

We should stick to that only. Just appreciate the portrait.

anon75669
Post 25

Personally, I believe that since Da Vinci disrespected those who valued males' rights over females' rights, that he drew himself in a woman's form. This was to symbolize the greatness of a woman and how he would be an ideal woman. Perhaps he had always wanted to be a woman?

Also, I heard the theory that the Mona Lisa is actually Isabella D'este. If you look at some images, her right hand is identical to the right hand of Mona Lisa.

anon63133
Post 23

I believe in my opinion that the Mona Lisa's smile mystery was created by the people of France so that it can enter the art culture of the world. They had known perhaps that when people hears a mystery they would try to look for many answers about it and that is the reason why a lot of tourists go to France so that they can

"unveil" an unknown mystery because no one knows really what it is because the creator died already and what is the sense of looking for a mystery of such painting?

Why is the Mona Lisa smile super important? who decided for it to be so mysterious? Is the Mona Lisa smile mystery a technique for the French so that they can milk the money from a lot of people so that their economy continues to surge up?

The people's craving for unveiling a mystery drives people to go there and be a part of a cultural mystery created by the dominant forces above the social classes.

anon63038
Post 22

wow it's very interesting. why don't you guess, what mona lisa knows that we doesn't know?

anon62916
Post 21

A lot of this is exaggerated. The portrait was just a picture after all. Don't think too much about it and let it be. The world will be better tomorrow.

anon62439
Post 20

Did you know that there are geometrical forms (spheres and circles) where there is light (the breast, the neck and the hands)?

Leonardo da Vinci did not like how everyone thought men were greater then women. To him, they had the same importance, so when you look at the left side (male side) she is greater.

I personally think that there is a lot more mysteries in the Mona Lisa picture to be found, and I would like to know them all.

Of course Leonardo da Vinci is the only one who knows them all and if he was here today, he would help us all with his intelligence and give another big boost to mankind.

He is probably the one who gave us the biggest boost in the whole world. Without him we would probably be a few hundred years behind.

R.I.P. Leonardo da Vinci, who is my hero.

anon61902
Post 19

leonardo da vinci painted a portrait of lisa gherardini, a duchess of milan in italy.

anon59978
Post 18

mona lisa isnt even a real person. according to dan brown, whose book is based on a fact,

mona lisa is an anagram for the greek god and goddess amon and lisa. the painting symbolizes their union. and the smile is a result of the left side being larger than the right. left is a symbol of male and right for female.

yuma
Post 17

I think the woman in the portrait is either a portrait of himself (in woman form), or possibly his mother. At first glance, the woman looks rather manly, and through digital analysis, there have even been results that da Vinci’s facial features aligned perfectly with that of Mona Lisa’s. I say mother because it is quite possible as they would share similar features.

An important fact to consider is that da Vinci spent four years on this painting, carrying it with him wherever he went, even during his travels, and only parted it at the time of his death. It was obvious that this painting was close to his heart, even more so than his other paintings might have been.

Regarding Mona Lisa’s smile, although it appeared the same to me from when I looked directly at the eyes and at the mouth, respectively, I did notice that the longer I looked at her mouth, the more strained it looked, as if she were forced to smile.

Her facial expression, as well as her complexion looked very sad and dark. But it may have been the sfumato technique used that contributed to this.

As far as the “her gaze on you no matter what angle you look at her” goes, this, in my opinion, goes back to it being Da Vinci’s portrait of himself. He may have used a mirror to paint himself, which is said to achieve the same effect.

anon50368
Post 15

I love da vinci's paintings. they are so

mysterious! I want to know more about his paintings!

anon48281
Post 14

The mona lisa, i believe, is either a self portrait or a portrait of his "ideal" woman. nothing much to it. probably another painting someone gets from the imagination. he could had thought to himself while painting, "hmm i would love to fall in love with someone like this or this is my ideal type of woman im interested in."

anon46897
Post 13

I recently traveled to Paris, and saw the ML first hand. Unfortunately, they keep the crowd so far away, and for good reason, that none of the details mentioned can by seen. There are so many theories surrounding her that no one will ever know the true meaning of her creation. But, there is one thing that I will agree on, she knows something we don't.

anon43819
Post 12

I believe that mona lisa is da vinci's mistress. mona lisa was a very famous person during that time, but she had a love affair with da vinci who had his own family. that's why mona lisa doesn't have eyebrows is because da vinci keeps her identity a secret because they had an affair.

anon41304
Post 11

who was exactly mona lisa?

anon38874
Post 10

does the smile of mona lisa mean anything?

anon37686
Post 9

Mona Lisa seems to know something that the rest of the world does not know.

anon36154
Post 8

what is the number that the mona lisa a is based on? i need to know for my maths test. do you know? i need to find out ???

anon32229
Post 7

why did he paint the mona lisa?

anon32228
Post 6

was the mona lisa, in a way, related to leonardo Da vinci?

anon24585
Post 5

I am happy to hear and believe that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait of DaVinci. I have always secretly said to myself, "what a homely looking woman!" Now I don't feel so terrible thinking that. And, to this day the painting does not move me much. True, DaVinci's work is beautiful but I never believed this was one of his best works. Boticelli is my favorite of that period. At least he seemed to know how to portray a woman's beauty.

malena
Post 4

I've also heard speculation that Mona Lisa wasn't a real person but rather Leonardo's vision of the ideal woman.

wvinson
Post 3

The Mona Lisa is a portrait of Da Vinci's mother Caterina. Caterina, Leonardo's mother, birth of her illegitimate child, Leonardo. Leonardo carried this painting with him always not only does the painting remind him of his mother but also reminds him of some of his favorite places shown in the background.

I believe that he took comfort from the painting as it would revive good memories.

Moderator's reply: Interesting! I've never heard that theory before! Thanks!

anon1614
Post 2

What other identities is Mona Lisa thought to have?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email