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Mona Lisa Art Criticism Paper





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Mona Lisa Art Criticism


The Mona Lisa paining is the most famous piece in the world. The art continues to intrigue many due to its quality that makes it look like a real person. It is a half-length portrait of a woman called Lisa Gherardini married to Francesco Del Giocondo (Strickland and Boswell 35). The eyes seem to move, and the smile of the woman portrayed has remained quite a mystery to many people. In addition, the painting is done using oil. Many people have viewed the painting, but interpretation requires a keen eye. It is dated back to the 16th century before Leonardo da Vinci the painter died (Sassoon and Leonardo 34). The painting was done on a poplar using oil, common during this century. The piece continues to evoke thoughts in many people as well as appeal to all that view it due to its realistic portrait.

The process of art criticism involves description, formal analysis, interpretation, and value judgment. The first step is to put into words a description of what you see, then formally analyzing the visual elements and principles of design. Next, subjectively interpret (hopefully with new insight) what the content is, taking into account style. Finally, judging, and going beyond prejudging to discernment, the work of art being studied; what do you think the artist’s intentions were? Was this communicated? Does it have value? Can you recognize the aesthetic quality in the work? Additionally, biographical or historical information should be offered. Therefore, education and evaluation help to analyze a work of art creatively.


The Mona Lisa painting is on a 30 inch by 20.5 inches frame. The painting is dated around 1503 and 1506, few years before Leonardo died. The painting shows a woman with a mysterious face, sitting in a chair. There are two pillars on both sides. She has long hair, her eyes have no eyebrows, and no eye lashes visible as well. Her clothes depict the timeline of the painting. She wears a veil, which is associated to the earlier centuries to show chastity. Her right arm is resting on her left arm, which is placed on the arm of the chair. The background behind her shows a landscape going quite far. The woman sits in the chair upright with her two hands folded with the right on the left. The center of the attraction is her brightly lit face surrounded by dark hair, background as well as clothes. Her hands are also lit up, as they are not covered completely. This blends in a contrast between the face, chest and the hands. The landscape starts with a worm color where there is a road in the rocks, and a bridge on the right side of the painting. The landscape becomes more and wilder, with the further distance showing a landscape of rocks and water (Meattle 2001). The further distance shows higher rocks and water that is followed by the horizon. The landscape matches the colors of her cloths.

Formal Analysis

In this painting, the most important part is the face and hands of the woman, which are brightly portrayed. What makes them exceptional is the illumination given to them that is in contrast to everything else around her. Her clothes are dark, as well as her background. The contrast highlights her face as the focal point since it is the most notable of the painting. The composition is arranged in a pyramid, with the hands as the base while the chest and the face are aligned along the center of the hands. This was used to place the woman in the space of the painting equally. The portrait can be described as quite mysterious, content and intriguing depending on an individual. Her smile is quite a mystery, more so considering the lack of eyebrows and eyelashes that make it quite intriguing as well. The posture and its simple look shows conservativeness of the woman. The painting style used recognizes that people perceive distance through difference of colors, where color goes deeper with distance. For instance, to show further depth, one can paint darker blue at the furthest distance, while they paint light blue at the nearest object. The difference in color will show distance and depth. In the background of the painting, Leonardo uses this technique to show the furthest distance and density. In the main object, the woman, Leonardo uses the style of shading and avoids use of lines. He used the shadows to show outline such as showing the end of her chin or chic. The shadowing makes the portrait of the woman more real than any other painting.


One of the most famous things about the painting is the smile of the woman that many have always found quite mysterious. Her mysterious smile look as if it is holding a secret that no body else would know. This has intrigued many people across generations. Others interpret it as a smile of innocence, while others might still have a different interpretation (totallyhistory.com 2011). The different interpretations of the smile have been the biggest mystery to people trying to interpret the smile. The mystery of the smile is achieved through the sfumato, which is a painting style without clear-cut outlines (Meattle 2001). This is done by painting the color to blend in with the rest, which makes it hard for one to notice any difference using shadows that blend in the colors and objects. The same technique is used for ensuring there are no outlines showing a big difference. Rather, the painting uses shadows that blend with the colors to create the object.

The other mystery is the ayes that are always focused on its viewer despite the angle one takes. The eyes move as one moves around to maintain the look, since she seems to be looking directly into the eyes of the viewer. Her posture shows her deservedness, and placing her arms on each other shows her virtue as a woman. Lack of eyebrows and aye lashes represent the timeline of the painting when women shaved of these hairs as women with them were considered unattractive. The veil on her hair could represent her

Intentions of the artists

It is not very clear what the intention of Leonardo da Vinci was when he painted the Mona Lisa. However, considering it was not a pure imagination but a portrait of a woman whose husband commissioned Leonardo to paint, the intention might have been to make a good painting. However, with the landscape from behind the woman, it can be thought its intention was to create an illusion of the woman’s dreams considering the depth. One may not see this as the intention, but the depth of the distance and the atmospheric aspect of the landscape make it appear infinite or timeless (Meattle 2001). The aesthetic quality of the painting can be recognized. It is easily recognized that the painting uses a pyramid design for placing the woman within the space proportionately. The viewer and the woman are separated by the arm of the chair. The face of Mona Lisa is highlighted through contrasting colors around her face.

Historical Information

The painting was painted between 1503 and 1506 according to researchers. However, the exact number of time it took Leonardo to paint the painting is not known as well as the time he held to it. It was painted in Florence, Italy. However, it is thought that the one who commissioned the painting never ended up with it, since it was inherited by his student, Solai, and later sold to the king of France in 1516. The art was later kept in Napoleon’s bedroom before it was taken back to the Louvre. The painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 (totallyhistory.com 2011). The mastermind behind the theft was Eduardo Valfierno who planned to reproduce it for sale. It was found in 1913 when he tried to sell it and returned to the Louvre, where it still stands.


Currently, the painting is the most famous and attracts millions of viewers every year. The most intriguing feature of the painting is the smile on the woman, which everybody might have a different interpretation. Many have suggested the reason behind the smile as a secret she holds, while others see it as a smile of innocence (totallyhistory.com 2011). However, majority find it enigmatic and hard to explain. The other mysterious feature is the gaze of the woman, looking directly into the viewer, and hers eyes move with the viewer’ eyes. Leonardo used the sfumato style of painting to blend the colors without use of lines to show each feature of the woman and the background in a realistic way. This is through use of shadows to show a difference in distance as well as between two parts such as the smile on the edge of her lips.

Work cited

Meattle Jay. Leonardo da Vinci‘s the Mona Lisa. hepguru.com, 2001. Web. July 4, 2012.

Sassoon, Donald and Leonardo (da Vinci). Leonardo and the Mona Lisa story: the history of a painting told in pictures. Michigan: the University of Michigan, 2009. Print.

Strickland, Carol and Boswell, John. The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern. New York, N.Y: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2007. Print.

Totallyhistory.com. Mona Lisa. totallyhistory.com, 2011. Web. July 4, 2012.

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