суббота, 24 января 2009 г.

Postcard from France



Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda) is a 16th century portrait painted in oil on a poplar panel by Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance. The work is owned by the French government and is on the wall in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France with the title Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo.

The painting is a half-length portrait and depicts a woman whose expression is often described as enigmatic. The ambiguity of the sitter's expression, the monumentality of the half-figure composition, and the subtle modeling of forms and atmospheric illusionism were novel qualities that have contributed to the painting's continuing fascination. Few other works of art have been subject to as much scrutiny, study, mythologizing and parody.

BBC made the film "Leonardo: The Secret Life of the Mona Lisa" in 2003.

Could this be the secret of her smile?

Five hundred years after Leonardo painted the most famous picture in Western art, new research suggests that his model may have been an expectant mother - and that he painted her for precisely that reason. By Nick Rossiter
Last Updated: 7:51PM BST 06 Apr 2003

Leonardo's La Gioconda, or 'the smiling one' (left), and The Great Lady, his anatomical sketch which has a strong connection to the Mona Lisa

On June 23, 1852, a young French artist, Luc Maspero, threw himself from the fourth floor window of his Paris hotel. In a final letter, he wrote: "For years I have grappled desperately with her smile. I prefer to die."

Over the past five centuries, that smile has been exploited and replicated in so many forms that the Mona Lisa has been transformed from a mere masterpiece into an international celebrity. And, like a Hollywood star, she now has to have her own bodyguards and lives behind triplex bullet-proof glass in a humidified, air-conditioned environment.

Aside from the riddle of the smile, it's the mystery of Mona Lisa's identity that has inspired amateur art detectives all over the world. After centuries of uncertainty, a vitally important document has recently come to light in the Milan State Archive. It's a probate document listing the possessions of Leonardo's life-long companion, Salai, "the little devil", who was murdered in 1525. It includes a painting valued at 505 lire, which was a small fortune in those days. So it must have been a masterpiece, almost certainly left to Salai by Leonardo himself.

It's called La Gioconda, which means "the smiling one", but it's also a pun on the married name of a Florentine woman called Lisa Gherardini. She was the third wife of a prosperous silk merchant, Francesco del Gioconda, and they almost certainly met Leonardo through their patronage of Santa Annunziata, the local Servite monastery.

However, as a portrait, Mona Lisa is a puzzle and quite unlike any other picture of the time. In the materialistic culture of early-16th-century Florence, portraits weren't an expression of individuality and character, they were an advert for wealth and social status. But far from being the height of fashion, Mona Lisa's dress is utterly plain and timeless and, despite the fact that she is a married woman, she wears no jewellery, not even a wedding ring.

In an age when women were expected to be chaste and virtuous, Lisa's hair, sensually draped over her shoulders, would have been seen as implying loose morals. And then there's her gaze. Instead of modestly averting her eyes, she looks directly out towards us with the knowing air of someone who, much to our irritation, knows something we do not.

The mystery deepens when we learn that Leonardo never delivered the portrait. Instead, he continued to work on it for many years and kept the Mona Lisa by his side until his death on May 2, 1519.

Rona Goffen, professor of art history at Ruttgers University, argues that although Mona Lisa began as a portrait, at some point its purpose changed: "She became something entirely different. It was intensely personal to Leonardo, something that he would develop over the years entirely for himself."

If Mona Lisa is not a portrait, then what is it? Perhaps more than any other painter, Leonardo's art is imbued with his scientific observations. While painting the Mona Lisa during the day, Leonardo would spend the nights at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, dissecting corpses. His ambition was to discover the very source of life itself.

Professor Martin Kemp, widely regarded as the world's leading authority on Leonardo, believes there's a strong connection between Mona Lisa and a remarkable physiological drawing of a woman in the Royal Collection at Windsor, called The Great Lady. He describes it as like an x-ray of the Mona Lisa herself: "If you think that Leonardo, in a sense, saw this inside her body, then you suddenly realise, wow, that is how Leonardo looked at it. He thinks he's really getting to the mystery of life, the cyclical nature of birth, maturity and death."

As part of his anatomical investigations, Leonardo made the very first drawing of a foetus in the womb. He also set out to challenge the contemporary belief that men alone were responsible for procreation. He observed that the man's role was quick and easy, whereas the woman's was complex and full of mystery, and concluded that the female "seed", or egg, contributed equally to the formation of the embryonic child.

Sherwin Nuland, a professor of surgery at Yale and an expert on Leonardo's anatomical studies, argues that the Mona Lisa symbolises the female role in procreation and that her expectant condition is evident in the painting. "She's supposed to be a relatively young woman in her early twenties. If you look at her hands, there's no question that she has swollen fingers," he says. "There's no question that she's holding her hands in the particular attitude that we're accustomed to seeing on the upper abdomens of women far advanced in pregnancy."

But what was it about his sitter, Lisa del Gioconda, that could have inspired Leonardo to transform her into a universal symbol of motherhood and fertility? It is generally thought that Leonardo painted his portrait in 1502 or 1503, and the recent discovery of baptism records reveals that Lisa gave birth to her second child in December 1502. As Martin Kemp explains: "The occasion for a portrait was invariably triggered by a significant event. It may well be quite prosaic that this painting was to celebrate her pregnancy. I am broadly sympathetic to the idea that [the Mona Lisa] is bearing life within her."

The life cycle and the female role in creation is still only half the story of the Mona Lisa. The other half, often overlooked, is the primeval landscape in front of which she is sitting. Most people assume that this was a product of Leonardo's fertile imagination, but there's increasing evidence it was inspired by the landscape of his childhood, the Arno Valley. On the right side of Mona Lisa's elbow, there's a bridge that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Buriano bridge which crosses the Arno river near Arezzo. And just a few miles up the road is another remarkable connection with the Mona Lisa that locals call: "The Valley of Hell". It's a series of dramatic rock outcrops rising hundreds of feet into the air, not unlike the great pinnacles to be found in Monument Valley, Arizona.

So what is going on here? According to geologist Dr Cherry Lewis, the Mona Lisa corresponds closely to Leonardo's theory of creation, which challenged the biblical story of Genesis, and represents an ancient, geological vision of how the Arno Valley once looked. The two great lakes, the river flowing from the mountains cutting its way through the valley and making its way to the sea in a grand, continuous, hydrological cycle all match Leonardo's observations about how the landscape we see today was shaped by the power of water. Many regard him as the father of geology as a modern science.

The Mona Lisa therefore provides us with a snapshot of the mature Leonardo's mind. In part it's a psychological portrait but it's also a world view that connects human beings and the natural world with the mysterious female at the centre of creation. It is a distillation of all that he had discovered through a lifetime's observation into the secrets of nature.( Info from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3592403/Could-this-be-the-secret-of-her-smile.html)

Links:
Leonardo da Vinci
The Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa in details
The Mona Lisa BBC article

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