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were painted in profile, but Leonardo placed them in a three-quarter pose. This gave them a stronger presence and placed them in pyramidal compositions.


He used chiaroscuro (contrasting light and dark) on the clothing to great effect. Sfumato was particularly effective on faces.


Mona Lisa Subject


Leonardo’s most famous portrait is Mona Lisa (Fig. 22.9). It is thought to be Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo.


Composition


This is a half-length portrait from head to waist. She looks directly at the viewer, but her arms, torso and head are each subtly twisted in different directions. Her hands are joined in the foreground.


The landscape behind her seems to be assembled from many views and there are more than one possible horizon lines.


The scene looks forbidding and is in contrast to the warm, welcoming face of Mona Lisa.


Painterly techniques


The flexibility of oil paint allowed Leonardo to fully explore the soft folds of the drapery and the texture of skin. Her face, neck and hands glow with an inner light, which he created through the use of chiaroscuro.


The ground and hills behind the subject are painted in warm tones of reddish-brown. As the landscape recedes, the mountains become progressively more blue.


The use of sfumato adds to an atmosphere of mystery. The figure seems to dissolve into the background, with its winding rivers and strange rock formations.


Fig. 22.9 Mona Lisa, c. 1503–5, by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood panel, Louvre, Paris. Mona Lisa’s mysterious, unfathomable smile has made her more famous than any of Leonardo’s other works. It is possibly a visual representation of happiness suggested by the word gioconda (‘happiness’ in Italian).


Over the years the glazes have darkened and the very fine detail has become obscured.


The Virgin and Child with St Anne


Subject


The real meaning of the work is unclear. The Christ child plays with the sacrificial lamb and this symbolises the passion. Mary leans across her mother to pull him back but she is sitting on St Anne’s lap. This may refer to the stream of life flowing through the three generations (Fig. 22.10).


CHAPTER 22: A GOLDEN AGE 263


EUROPEAN ART


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