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corner ...Leonardo's masterful technique
According to Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin, "The entire history of portraiture afterwards depends on the Mona Lisa. If you look at all the other portraits – not only of the Italian Renaissance, but also of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries – if you look at Picasso, at everyone you want to name, all of them were inspired by this painting. Thus it is sort of the root, almost, of occidental portrait painting."

Mona Lisa detail
In a break with the Florentine tradition of outlining the painted image, Leonardo perfected the technique known as sfumato, which translated literally from Italian means "vanished or evaporated." Creating imperceptible transitions between light and shade, and sometimes between colors, he blended everything "without borders, in the manner of smoke," his brush strokes so subtle as to be invisible to the naked eye.

Leonardo was fascinated by the way light falls on curved surfaces. The gauzy veil, Mona Lisa's hair, the luminescence of her skin – all are created with layers of transparent color, each only a few molecules thick, making the lady's face appear to glow, and giving the painting an ethereal, almost magical quality.

"Today's art critics call attention to the painting's mystery and harmony," says Cuzin. "But the first art historians to describe it emphasized its striking realism, pointing out 'the lips that smile' and 'the eyes that shine.'" Giorgio
Mona Lisa detail
Vasari, for example, wrote in his early biography of da Vinci, Lives of the Painters: "As art may imitate nature, she does not appear to be painted, but truly of flesh and blood. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating."

The realism of his painting is a result of Leonardo's diverse scientific observations. From the study of human anatomy he developed a mathematical system for determining size in space, perspective that is incorporated in the way Mona Lisa's torso, head and eyes are each turned a little more toward the viewer. Da Vinci also observed differences between the subject and objects in the background, and used aerial perspective to create the illusion of depth: the farther something is in the distance, the smaller the scale, the more muted the colors and the less detailed the outlines.
Mona Lisa detail

"Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn't count. What counts is the knowledge," observes Cuzin. "In the same painting we move from soft places like the clouds to areas of extreme intricacy and fine detail. For example, around the neckline of the lady's dress we have delicate interlacing embroidery. The contrast of these different areas creates a cohesion that is very rare in painting." All this we now take for granted. The Mona Lisa looks so natural, and so familiar, that we forget how innovative the painting was at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
more about Da Vinci and the Renaissance
Even the use of landscape as background was a departure from tradition; Leonardo saw creative and fictional possibilities in it. "The background may be a representation of the universe, with mountains, plains and rivers. Or possibly it is both reality and the world of dream. One could suppose that the landscape doesn't exist, that it is the young woman's own dream world." (Cuzin)

And one could suppose she dreams sweet dreams, and perhaps that is why she smiles...
more about Mona Lisa's smile

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