Mona Lisa Strangeness by Sara Dean

After a much-needed vacation, we’re back, and this time we have a special treat: our very first Guest Blogger, the talented writer and artist, Sara Dean. We’re confident you’ll enjoy her writing as much as we do!

Ms. Dean has spent her life pursuing careers that utilize her skills in writing and art.  She has studied fine art, Graphic Design, photojournalism and web design at Moorpark College, and is currently completing her thesis for her Master’s of English Literature from California State University, Northridge.  In 2001, her poetry was accepted into the International Library of Poetry’s anthology.  She enjoys illustrating in a variety of media as well as watercolor painting.  She is currently a blog contributor, and has a gallery on

May 2nd marked the anniversary of the passing of the great Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, the artist responsible for painting one of the most recognizable faces of all time: the Mona Lisa.  While reams have already been written about her, her look and her mystery remain so compelling that we cannot break from her spell.

By modern standards, if we look at her face she would likely go unnoticed on the streets of a bustling city.  Her lashless eyes and browless forehead would not grace the covers of modern magazines. In fact, I am convinced that she would likely be grabbed from the audience of the Oprah Winfrey show for a makeover.

Yet none of this takes away from her allure. One can imagine the delicate strokes as da Vinci captured the near-perfect skin. Using the sfumato technique to gradually fade between light and shadow she glows so beautifully that you wish to reach out and caress the softness of her cheek.  We are even more enchanted by that perfect, tiny, knowing smile with lips slightly parted at the corners, which 16th century writer Firenzoula described as a sign of elegance.

While we know little of the woman posed with her hands crossed over one another, we do know that her portrait has been through many an adventure, including having even been stolen in 1911 only to be randomly recovered in a Florence hotel.  She has been damaged more than once, and restored to the best of the ability of art historians.  When we look at these oils, we know however that time has aged them, robbed her of her lively colors and replacing them with patina of age.

Until the past few years, this has been the only Mona Lisa we have known or figured we would know.  However, thanks to the wonders of modern infrared scanning and digital restoration by Pascal Cotte, we get to see what the portrait would have looked like had we strolled casually into da Vinci’s studio for a showing and a glass of Sangiovese.

Suddenly the genius of da Vinci is even more evident.  The luminescence of the fabrics, the sheerness of her veil, and the softness of her curls all capture our imagination.  The depth of the blue in the background scenery places her in a moment as vibrant and voluptuous as the woman sitting for hours having her portrait painted.  The fact that we are still moderately obsessed with finding out exactly who the woman is in this portrait is a testament to the passion of da Vinci for capturing the essence of the person.

To this day historians are determined to extract the story of the woman with the mysterious smile. Thanks to Veit Probst of the Heidelburg University Library scouring the notes of city official Antonio Vespucci, we know that Mona Lisa is likely Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant.

There is no way to prove her identity, however, short of finding and exhuming her body, which is exactly what Italian art historian Silvano Vinceti intends to do.  According to historical records, Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo is buried beneath Saint Orsolla Church in Florence, and Vinceti is using the best georadar equipment available to see if he may find remains. If so, he wishes to reconstruct her face and compare it our beloved work of art.

You cannot bring mortality to that which da Vinci has made immortal.  Reconstructing the face of a woman laid to rest long ago, even it if it appears to bear a resemblance, will solve nothing.  Giving a name, a connection, to the woman behind the delicate brush strokes will not tell us who her eyes were gazing upon, or who she was thinking about when that smile graced her lips.

I say, give up.  Let her possible mortal counterpart remain in quiet repose.  The immortal Mona Lisa will continue to look with knowing glances, and refuse to give up all of her secrets. That is why we love her so.


~ by TSI on July 20, 2011.

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