(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)

Mona Lisa (detail)

Oil on panel
Musée du Louvre, Paris

There is a suggestion of a smile both in the Mona Lisa's eyes and on the lips and in the corners other mouth; it appears unfathomable and mysterious and during the course of the centuries has given rise to any number of interpretations. Giorgio Vasari, writing about the arts, provided an amusing explanation: Leonardo wanted to depict the lady in a happy mood and for that reason arranged for musicians and clowns to come to the portrait sittings. This anecdote was ingeniously supported by the name he gave the portrayed woman: "La Gioconda", which means nothing less than "the merry one".

In the essay "On the perfect beauty of a woman'', by the 16th-century writer Firenzuola, we learn that the slight opening of the lips at the corners of the mouth was considered in that period a sign of elegance. Thus Mona Lisa has that slight smile which enters into the gentle, delicate atmosphere pervading the whole painting. To achieve this effect, Leonardo uses the sfumato technique, a gradual dissolving of the forms themselves, continuous interaction between light and shade and an uncertain sense of the time of day.