A smile so pleasing

This snippet comes from Vasari and tells the story of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503-5).  Vasari (1511-74) was an Italian artist and writer, often credited as being the first modern art historian.

For Francesco del Giocondo, Leonardo undertook to execute the portrait of his wife, Mona Lisa.  He worked on this painting for four years, and then left it still unfinished; and today it is in the possession of King Francis of France, at Fountainbleu. If one wanted to see how faithfully art can imitate nature, one could readily percieve it from this head; for here Leonardo subtly reproduced every living detail. The eyes had their natural lustre and moistness, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution. The eyebrows were completely natural, growing thickly in one place and lightly in another and following the pores of the skin. The nose was finely painted, with rosy and delicate nostrils as in life. The mouth, joined to the flesh-tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint.

On looking closely at the pit of her throat one could swear that the pulses were beating. Altogether this picture was painted in a manner to make the most confident artist – no matter who – despair and lose heart.  Leonardo made use of this device: while he was painting Mona Lisa, who was a very beautiful woman, he employed singers and musicians or jesters to keep her full of merriment and so chase away the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits. As a result, in this painting of Leonardo’s there was a smile so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.

2 Comments

  • December 13, 2009 - 11:46 am | Permalink

    Raphael is often overlooked. It’s impressive for its time, which is what so amazed Vasari. Having said that, I’ve never much cared for it either. I’d take a Botticelli any day.

  • December 13, 2009 - 2:00 am | Permalink

    To be contrary – I’ve never been impressed by it. The one eye looking at you and the other over your shoulder doesn’t help. Meanwhile in the same room of the Louvre there’s the blue-eyed Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael stuck in a corner being ignored.

    OK, I admit the hands are good… and if he’d painted the far mountains purple and the sky pink the background would be a perefect spectrum behind old ‘light-hearted’ Lisa.

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