Art Discussion

Mona Lisa discussion | On other key works | Academic

Mona Lisa discussion

Excerpt from Vasari's Life of Leonardo Da Vincii, on the painting generally and on "the smile."

"Leonardo also 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."

Excerpt from Walter Pater. The Renaissance (1873), on the Mona Lisa.

"Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least."

Excerpt from Sigmund Freud, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910). It's his mother's smile, of course. It's really remarkable the bogus hold that Freud has had on the Western imagination.

"La Gioconda" by Michael Field (1892).

"Landscape that shines suppressive of its zest
For those vicissitudes by which men die."
"Michael Field" was the joint pen-name of Katharine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper, lovers who were also aunt and niece.

Brief bio of the Fields, from

Quotation mishmash from Mona Lisa Exposed (Tufts University).

"You Can Tell By The Way She Smiles: Does anyone understand the Mona Lisa?" by Joan Altabe, from Gadfly Online (April 2002). Altabe humorously dismisses recent scientific explanations and other reductionist readings (but then gets caught in landscape adoration.

Amazon. Becoming Mona Lisa: The Making of a Global Icon by Donald Sassoon, "provides a fascinating account of how Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece became what it is today."

On other key works

Brief review of Marcel Duchamp's "L.H.O.O.Q." explaining how it fits in with his other works, and what "LHOOQ" means.

Comparisons of some reproductions, 16c. to the present, together with the Richard Krausse's version, with his dog sparky in her arms.

Cesare Maccari's 1864 painting of Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa, employing musicians to keep her smile up, as Vasari states.

"La Gioconda con le chiavi" by Fermand Léger (1930), with some discussion in Italian. Translate

Mona Lisa cartoons from


Visual Intertextuality: Sequences and Presuppositions. Tackles "sequences" of appropriations and reimaginations for three works of art, Van Eyck's Holy Face, Velazquez, Las Meninas, and the Mona Lisa. Courtesy Martin Irvine's rich syllabus for "Contemporary Theories of Media, Communication, and the Visual Arts," which also includes a handy, tabular Art Theory Contexts (1970s-present), extracts from Kuhn, outlines of Foucoult, etc.

Bibliography from Mona Lisa Exposed (Tufts University).

"The Medusa Lisa" by Heather Beatty, student paper for Timothy D. O'Brien's course "Chasing Medusa."

"By considering the Mona Lisa in terms of Medusa, the archetypal femme fatale, the Mona Lisa can be better understood, and at least one explanation of the Gioconda can be developed."

"Leonardo's Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo" by Frank Zöllner, Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1993). Zöllner investigates the identity of the sitter and recent claims that it is not Lisa del Giocondo, finding strong evidence that the traditional identification is correct.

"Leonardos Mona Lisa 1963: Kunst und Kalter Krieg" by Frank Zöllner (1993). On the Mona Lisa's "state visit" to Washington D.C. and New York, and the President Kennedy and André Malraux's political aims. Translate

"Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa. Das Porträt der Lisa del Giocondo" 1994 article or pamphlet by Leonardo-scholar Frank Zöllner examines the Mona Lisa in historical and artistic context. Translate

"John F. Kennedy and Leonardo's Mona Lisa: Art as the Continuation of Politics" by Frank Zöllner, Kritische Historizität. Festschrift für O.K. Werckmeister (1997), on the Mona Lisa's travels and travails.

List of writings by Frank Zöllner , Mona Lisa scholar, on the Web. Zöller has kindly provided another page with English summaries of his articles, both German and English.

Amazon. Mona Lisa's Moustache: Making Sense of a Dissolving World by Mary Settegast.

Amazon. Mona Lisa's Escort: Andre Malraux and the Reinvention of French Culture by Herman Lebovics, on Malraux's "travelling salesman" attempts to promote and defend French culture around the world, including the Washington and Tokyo Mona Lisa exhibitions.

LibraryThing: Catalog your books online.

If you enjoy this site you may like this other site by me:

Angels on the Web. Images and other web resources on angels in Western culture, religion and art.

Mermaids on the Web. 1,650 resources on mermaids and their relatives, including over 1,000 images.

Cleopatra on the Web. Comprehensive guide to Cleopatra VII in history and the Western imagination.

Email this page to someone