The transition movement that took place between the 14th and 17th century in Italy is known as the Renaissance time or by definition “rebirth”. The philosophy that took place in the period is one of the humanism or the focus on the human being. One of the master artists of this time is Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) and one of the paintings that best represents the philosophy and art of this period is the Mona Lisa.
The philosophy of humanism brought on a time where the focus was on the human being. The previous philosophy of the medieval time was more focused on biblical motivation, whereas humanism was not. Humanism stood for the; ” the emergence of the individual figure, in place of stereotyped or symbolic figure, greater realism and consequent attention to detail, as reflected in the development of linear perspective and increased realism of human faces and bodies” (High Renaissance Art. (n.d)).
The artist of the Renaissance time kept up with the spirit of humanism by portraying lifelike human forms with the realistic clothing, and expression and correct proportion. A new three-dimensional form was created with new techniques. The natural landscape began to appear as the background as a transition from the figures of heaven against a gold background.
Realism and idealism are other concepts that were used in the Renaissance time and one could say that Leonardo Da Vinci mastered them. Realism or portraying subjects as they really were accomplished by: forms, colors, proportions, lights and shade effects, spatial harmony and composition. Leonardo’s background in science, drafting, sculpting and architecture all helped in every portion of his painting of the Mona Lisa (The Mona Lisa, (n.d.)). Idealism was the idea of portraying subjects, as they should be.
The Mona Lisa was a painting that Leonardo Da Vinci was working on in between the years of 1503-1506; some believe the painting was still never finished by his death in 1519. The Mona Lisa clearly represents the philosophy of the humanism by representing the focus of the human being and realism. It also shows nature as shown in the background behind the figure in the painting.
The main focus of the Mona Lisa falls actually on the person in the picture. In previous medieval art the figures in the portrait were pictured in profiles and were stiff. Mona Lisa is painted in a relaxed three-quarter pose and cropped in contrast to the norm of full-length portraits. Whereas pictures previously had the figure in the painting adorned with jewels and decorations the Mona Lisa is simple and free of any jewelry. The woman’s hair is smooth and only has a simple veil (which may be a symbol of chastity); her hands are relaxed and free of bracelets and rings. Only the folds of her robe or dress are present (Mona Lisa, painted from 1503-1507, (n.d.)) as well as the lace-topped dress she is wearing.
The Mona Lisa’s main focus is on the face of the painting. The techniques of chiaroscuro, using lights and darks and sfumato (blending one tone to another) or the illusion of corners that allows the imagination to see the area in a different way, was introduced and used by Da Vinci in his painting (Mona Lisa painted from 1503-1507, (n.d.)). These techniques, that were achieved by using oil paints, were used on the face and the hands to make the person appear to be more real and almost as if she has movement. The smile that is so famous and adds to the mystery of her mood is also achieved by these techniques. While some viewers see the woman smiling others see her without a smile.
The pyramid design, which was commonly used, also helps the viewer to focus on the women. It is believed that the pyramid gives a representation of giving tribute to the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Mona Lisa’s pose is that of a pyramid shape with her head, shoulders and hands (Mona Lisa, La Giaconda, (n.d.)). There is also a glow on the face, neck and hands that puts an emphasis on those.
Leonardo painted a true representation of the women of the time. The woman’s face is free of facial hair including her eyebrows. At this time it was common for women of the time to pluck their eyebrows because some feel they were unsightly. When Leonarod did this it makes the person very real (Mona Lisa, La Giaconda, (n.d.).
The woman seems to be seated in a chair on some sort of balcony. The pillars to the side of the balcony almost form a frame to the figure behind the woman is a landscaped background.
The figure in the painting is emphasized by the light and dark tones of the wardrobe as well as the background. The face and body have lighter tones on them with smooth lines; gone are the days of outlined figures. The background does not reflect heaven or spiritual symbols but that of nature, which was another emphasis of the time. The curves in the background with the paths, rivers and mountains are a small reflection of the curves in her hair and clothes. It is believed that Da Vinci was working on “some of his finest sketches of plant life and nature” (Mona Lisa, painted from 1503-1507, (n.d.)), when he worked on the painting.
Some hints of yellow and gold are used in the winding paths behind the figure. The landscape in the background showing mountains, trees and water are painted in cooler blues and greens. There is a sense of depth and form because the picture becomes hazier as the landscape progresses backwards. Also, with this technique, the figure in the painting appears closer to the viewer and puts more emphasis on her because of the scenery.
Leonardo Da Vinci may be considered one of the greatest artists of all times. Leonardo was a true master of the Renaissance time reflecting the philosophy of the time that being humanism and the emphasis of the human being.
The Mona Lisa is a painting that shows such a philosophy of humanism. With the colors used, the shading and blending of the paints, Da Vinci could make the viewer focus on the human. The woman is very simple with no elaborate clothes or jewelry to take away from her, with a reserved posture.
The background is that of nature, which another focus of the time was. The landscape showing depth helps the viewer focus on the women.
The Mona Lisa is a true masterpiece of the Renaissance time. With Leonardo Da Vinci’s use of his techniques of sfumato and chiaroscuro he was able to make his figure of the women truly reflect the philosophies of the time. Mona Lisa appears to be a real woman with both depth and movement.