Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci: analysis and explanation of the painting

Mona Lisa is an oil on wood painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506.

Despite its reduced dimensions (77cm x 53cm), this work representing a mysterious woman has become, over the centuries, the most famous portrait in the history of Western art .

To understand the title, it is important to know that Mona must be understood as a contraction of “Madona”, the Italian equivalent of “Lady” or “Madame” Lisa .

The work is also known as A Gioconda , which can mean “joyful woman” or “the wife of Giocondo”. This is because the most accepted theory is that the woman portrayed is Lisa del Giocondo, an illustrious personality at the time.

Da Vinci’s most iconic work is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. It is one of the most precious in the entire history of art, having an almost incalculable value. Anyway, in 2014, scholars valued the screen at around 2.5 billion dollars .

Analysis of the main elements of the framework

One of the aspects that stands out is the balance between the human and the natural , expressed, for example, by the way in which the wave of the hair seems to blend into the landscape. The harmony between the elements is symbolized by Mona Lisa ‘s smile .

As for the techniques used, sfumato stands out . According to Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574, painter, architect and biographer of several Renaissance artists), this technique was created earlier, but it was Da Vinci who perfected it.

This consists of creating gradations of light and shadow that dilute the contour lines of the horizon. Its use in this work creates the illusion that the landscape is moving away from the portrait, giving depth to the composition.

Mona Lisa Smile

Several studies have been carried out to identify the feeling behind your smile, some have used computer systems that recognize human emotions through photographs.
Several studies have been carried out to identify the feeling behind your smile, some have used computer systems that recognize human emotions through photographs.

Mona Lisa ‘s ambiguous smile is undoubtedly the element of the painting that most attracts the attention of those who observe it . He boosted several readings and theories, inspiring texts, music, films, among others.

Although there are other results such as fear, anguish or annoyance, the highest percentage (86%) of the traits, visible in expression lines around the eyes and in the curve of the lips, seem to indicate happiness . Either way, the mystery of Mona Lisa ‘s smile remains.


Contrasting with the vagueness of her smile, the woman’s gaze displays an expression full of intensity . The work produces an optical effect that results in the impression that Mona Lisa ‘s inquisitive and penetrating eyes follow us from every angle.

Body posture

The woman is sitting, with her left arm resting on the back of the chair and her right hand resting on her left. Her posture seems to combine some comfort with solemnity and formality, making it obvious that she is posing for the portrait.


The painting features a seated woman, showing only her upper body. In the background, a landscape that mixes nature (the waters, the mountains) and human action (the paths).The model’s body appears in a pyramidal structure : at the base are her hands, at the top vertex her face.


In the background is an imaginary landscape, composed of mountains with ice, water and man-made paths. What stands out most is the fact that it is uneven , lower on the left side and higher on the right side.

Who was Mona Lisa ?

Although her face is one of the most recognizable in Western history, the truth is that the identity of the model who posed for Leonardo Da Vinci remains one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the work.

The topic has sparked much speculation and debate. Although several theories have emerged, three seem to be the ones that have acquired the most relevance and credibility.

Hypothesis 1: Lisa del Giocondo

The most likely theory supported by Giorgio Vasari and other evidence is that it is Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, an important figure in Florence society .

Some scholars have determined that there are documents that state that Leonardo was painting a picture of her, which seems to contribute to the veracity of the theory.

Another factor to take into account is that it is believed that the woman would have become a mother shortly before and the painting would have been commissioned by her husband to commemorate the moment.

Investigations that analyzed the various layers of paint in the work seem to indicate that, in the first versions, Mona Lisa would have a veil in her hair that was used by pregnant women or women who had recently given birth.

Hypothesis 2: Isabel of Aragon

Another possibility that has been pointed out is that it was Isabel of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan, at whose service the painter worked. Some studies point out that the dark green tone and the pattern of her garments are indications of her belonging to the house of Visconti-Sforza.

A comparison of the Mona Lisa model with portraits of the Duchess reveals that there are clear similarities between the two.

Hypothesis 3: Leonardo Da Vinci

The third widely debated assumption is that the figure depicted in the painting is actually Leonardo Da Vinci wearing women’s clothing.

Some believe this explains why the background is taller on the right side (associated with female gender) than on the left (associated with male gender).

This hypothesis has been pointed out based on the similarities between the Mona Lisa model and the self-portraits that Da Vinci painted. It could be argued, however, that the similarity results from the fact that they were painted by the same artist, who used the same techniques and style.


Frame history

Records are that the painting began to be painted in 1503 and was taken by the artist to France three years later (together with The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist ). The work was transported when he began working for King Francis I.

Mona Lisa was purchased by the monarch and was exhibited first in Fointainebleau and then in Versailles. For some time, the work disappeared, having been hidden during the reign of Napoleon, who wanted to keep it. After the French Revolution, it was exhibited at the Louvre Museum.

The work achieved popularity with the general public in 1911, after its theft was announced. The author of the crime was Vincenzo Peruggia, who intended to take Mona Lisa back to Italy.

Reinterpretations of Mona Lisa in art and culture

Nowadays, Mona Lisa has become one of the most popular works of art in the world, easily recognized even by those who do not know or appreciate painting.

His impact on Art History was immeasurable, largely influencing portraits painted after Leonardo.

Many artists have recreated Da Vinci’s painting in their work:

In addition to the visual arts, Mona Lisa was impregnated in Western culture itself.

The image is present in literature ( Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown), in cinema ( Mona Lisa’s Smile ), in music (Nat King Cole, Jorge Vercillo), in fashion, in graffiti, etc. The woman who smiles mysteriously has reached the status of an iconic and even pop figure .

Curiosities about the work

Mona Lisa ‘s Secret Smile

Some reports about the execution of the work say that Leonardo da Vinci would have hired musicians who were playing to animate the model, making her smile.

Frame colors changed

The color palette used is sober, with a predominance of yellow, brown and dark green. But it is worth noting that the colors of the work are currently different from those Leonardo painted.

Time and the varnish used gave the painting the green and yellow tones we see today.

Target of vandalism

Da Vinci’s famous painting has been the target of several acts of vandalism, which are intended to be seen as criticisms of the social, political and artistic system. Thus, Mona Lisa has undergone several restorations.

Mona Lisa has no eyebrows

Another curious fact about the work is that the model represented does not have eyebrows. However, the explanation is simple: during the 18th century, it was common for women to shave their eyebrows, as the Catholic Church believed that women’s hair was synonymous with lust.

By the way, just like Mona Lisa , there are often works from the same period that portray women with shaved eyebrows.

And as an example of this we have other works by Leonardo himself. This is the case of the Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci , one of the only four portraits painted by the artist that also include the Mona Lisa , the Lady with Ermine and La Belle Ferronière .

Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance

Born April 15, 1452 in Florence, Leonardo de Ser Piero da Vinci was one of the greatest geniuses of the western world. His work spanned the most diverse areas of knowledge: painting, sculpture, architecture, mathematics, science, anatomy, music, poetry and botany.

His name entered the History of art and culture mainly due to the works he painted, of which The Last Supper (1495) and Mona Lisa (1503) stand out.

Leonardo da Vinci became one of the greatest exponents of the Renaissance, an artistic and cultural movement that promoted a rediscovery of the world and of Man, prioritizing the human to the detriment of the divine. He died on May 2, 1519, in France, forever being marked as one of the greatest geniuses of Humanity.

Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus . c. 1482-1485. Tempera on canvas. 278.5cm × 172.5cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

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