The model for arguably the most famous painting in the world entitled "Mona Lisa"; alternatly named "La Gioconda" meaning light-hearted woman, derived from the surname of her husband; Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanoli del Giocondo whom refused to pay for the painting. It was finished in 1505 and rumored to have been further worked on by Leonardo Da Vinci over a course of many years before being acqured by François I after his death in 1519.

Unfortunately this work has not weathered the years well at all. To quote my High School art teacher, "The Mona Lisa has been stolen so many times, it's been reduced to nothing". A visit to the Louvre (where the portrait is currently held) would confirm this, the picture is puny. Anyhow, it's often considered among the greatest works of the Renaissance, right up there along with the Sistine Chapel, the David, and Aphrodite Born.



Source for ASCII: http://www.club200mhz.marine.su/column/mona.htm


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Mona Lisa is a British film from 1986, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson and Michael Caine.

London in the 1980s was a place of unashamed prosperity, of conspicuous consumption, yuppies in fast cars and designer suits. After the grimy 1970s, all industrial disputes and national decline, British commerce and the financial sector were on the up. People were making more money than they could spend, though they weren't afraid to spend it. It was a world of superficiality, of images, where the outward appearance of someone was far more important than their morals or humanity. But it was also a place of cruelty. Anything was for sale, and anyone was for sale, from high-class prostitutes to underage runaway drug-addicts. And you didn't have to look far below the surface to see the suffering.

This is the world of Mona Lisa. Bob Hoskins plays George, a small-time criminal, who was sent to jail at the end of the 1970s, and emerges in the middle of yuppie London, still in his cheap flared suit (long out of fashion even when he was put away) and his old-fashioned worldview. He was owed by underworld boss Mortwell (Michael Caine): George has gone to jail for him and kept his mouth shut, and he expects something in return. So Mortwell, sinisterly stroking a white rabbit like a Bond villain, gives him what should be a simple task, chauffeuring sophisticated black call-girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) around London, to top hotels and luxurious mansions.

At first he views her with contempt, and she views him with amused contempt. There is comedy in the culture clash; George claims he is simply, unavoidably "cheap", but Simone tries to dress him up in designer suits. However this is only a brief comic interlude. George is upset by her lifestyle, harbouring some kind of love for her. But though Simone appears ice-cold emotionally, and despite their vicious quarrels, a bond forms between them. She gets George to help her track down one of her old friends, a girl she used to know when both of them were working the streets of King's Cross, London. George finds himself thrown deeper and deeper into a world of depravity he never imagined, but he's always trying to play the white knight, chivalric to the last.

Bob Hoskins's performance is remarkable, a chief reason for the film's success. He had played pathetic before (in Pennies From Heaven on television) and brutal (in British gangster film The Long Good Friday) but in Mona Lisa he is able to combine the two. George is always sympathetic in his confusion; his brutality and naivety are just part of his desire to do good. Hoskins gives George an extraordinary moral quality despite his faults: he is a deeply flawed man, a criminal, who has ruined his marriage and nearly destroyed his relationship with his daughter, and is set to return to a life of crime.

Yet he is still the audience's window into this world, as he tried to make sense of the strange moral landscape he was in. Scouring strip bars and red-light districts to the incongruous sound of Phil Collins's Against All Odds, he is as stunned as we are: the vice industry is nothing like the simple criminal life of armed robbery and theft he came from. Since he went away, everything has got sicker, uglier, more perverted, less human. Hoskins discovers the truth little by little; his illusions about human relationships are shattered, and he learns, as we do, the brutal facts about the life of a street prostitute. His easy ideas about the relationship between the sexes are shaken up: he acts to protect both the prostitutes and his daughter, but he finds Simone is rather better able than he is to look after herself.

The film is obsessed with images and surfaces, with illusions and masks. George's one friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane excellent in an understated straight role) describes George's life in the terms of pulp crime fiction, and sells plastic sculptures of plates of spaghetti that look lifelike but are inedible. Later, George and Simone wear comically cheap plastic sunglasses and stroll on the pier at Brighton like a holiday-making couple, but this too proves an easily-shattered illusion. The ending of the film similarly refuses to play out like a fairytale: no big happy endings, no Dickensian restitution, but no Taxi Driver baroque either.

The title reflects the same theme of artifice, drawing on Nat King Cole's song of the same name:

Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa,
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?
George's attraction to Simone mirrors this, and she is just as inscrutable for him as the mysterious smile of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. In this respect, Simone is just one example of a world he has no understanding of or control over. He is the archetypal simple man confronted by a unknowable woman; but Simone is rendered this way by unimaginable horrors.

For a world of illusions, the violence in the film is real and shocking, sudden bursts of brutality that are over almost as quickly as they have begun. George grabs a pimp's head through a car window and bashes it off the sides of the frame. He knocks someone to the ground and kicks him in the stomach and groin. The attacks are too sharp to be exciting, almost too quick to register. It is as though the violence is trying to bust its way out of the film, breach the surface and achieve reality.

Mona Lisa is one of the most important and one of the best British films of the 1980s. No other movie describes so well the shiny surface of 1980s Thatcherite Britain and the cruelty underneath it. For a film so obsessed with surface and appearance, it is rich and multi-layered in its portrayal of a corrupt and fallen world. You can play a game just spotting all the masks, illusions, fictions and falsehoods. Or you can be swept up in the emotional depth of the story, a tale of crime and betrayal, of love, redemption and revenge, laden with twists and shocks. Or you can study the film's view of a corrupt society, George's old-fashioned view of women and morality up against a brightly-lit amoral world of extreme luxury and extreme pain.

You could compare it to Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), a very different portrayal of 1980s corruption in London, that substitutes formalism for feeling, to a very different but equally devastating effect. Or the violence and illusion of American Psycho (novel by Bret Easton Ellis 1991, film 2000), another tale of life in a world of amoral greed, but Mona Lisa is about the losers, not the winners, and about those, like Simone, who are both winners and losers, who win the wealth of the world but lose (or misplace) their souls. Taxi Driver (1976)is perhaps the American version, bigger, bloodier, more solipsistic and less socially concerned. Stephen Poliakoff's Close My Eyes (1991) is perhaps the other great movie of 1980s London, a tale of yuppies, decay and moral degeneracy played out through the metaphor of brother-sister incest, but it is a film anchored in the detached cool of wealthy Alan Rickman rather than the feverish desperation of Mona Lisa's leads.

Never before or since has Neil Jordan combined his technical ability to shock, confuse and challenge his audience together with a storyline that deals in such a head-on fashion with human life, with pain and suffering and real emotion. The Crying Game is little more than a game itself; his debut Angel, the story of musicial Stephen Rea's involvement with the IRA, approached the same mix of personal emotion with political strife, but was technically far inferior. But Mona Lisa is vary rare, not just in Britain but in world cinema, for its combination of intellect and feeling, a film that excites both the mind and the emotions.

Main cast
Bob Hoskins - George
Cathy Tyson - Simone
Michael Caine - Mortwell
Robbie Coltrane - Thomas
Clarke Peters - Anderson
Kate Hardie - Cathy
Zoë Nathenson - Jeannie
Sammi Davis - May
Rod Bedall - Torry
Joe Brown - Dudley
Pauline Melville - Dawn
Hossein Karimbeik - Raschid
Main credits
Director - Neil Jordan
Screenplay - Neil Jordan, David Leland
Producers - Patrick Cassavetti, Stephen Woolley
Cinematography - Roger Pratt
Editor - Lesley Walker
Production Design - Jamie Leonard
Music - Michael Kamen
Sound Editor - Jonathan Bates

Handmade Films, United Kingdom, 1986.
The Mona Lisa is often used as a rhetorical example by analogy when letterbox advocates argue that "pan and scanning" a widescreen movie is the moral equivalent of cutting down the Mona Lisa to fit in a new frame--i.e. altering a work of art in a way that does not have the artisan's approval.

Most people do not appreciate the irony in this argument. Evidence we have today (consisting largely of copies painted by Leonardo's students and apprentices) suggests that the Mona Lisa was originally a landscape--that is, wider than it was tall (with Mona Lisa herself in the center of it)--and that at some point it actually was cut down to fit its current portrait frame.

The naming of Lisa Gherardini, "La Gioconda" (the jocund i.e. smiling), as the sitter is due to Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Painters, though he apparently had not personally seen it. She is known in other languages as some variation of La Gioconda.

The word Mona is an English alteration of the Italian Monna, which is short for Madonna: Madonna Lisa = My Lady Lisa. In Venice and the north-east of Italy, mona means "cunt", so do try to remember: La Gioconda.

The smoky or smudgy effect that makes her mouth so mysterious is known as sfumato.

Leonardo took the painting with him when he was appointed court painter to King François I of France in 1516. It remained there after his death, and after the French Revolution the Palace of the Louvre was turned into a public gallery, and the Mona Lisa started to become very very famous indeed.

The most famous description of the Mona Lisa is by the 19th-century aesthete and art critic Walter Pater:

She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern philosophy has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself all modes of thought and life.

It was stolen in 1911 and returned in 1913. Its movements during the Second World War are not wholly accounted for. (There are many similar paintings, near-copies of it, in existence, and you naturally get the occasionally theory that the one in the Louvre is a changeling.) In 1961 it toured America and in 1974 Japan. These days it is behind so much bulletproof glass and so many tourists that there's no point trying to see it, if indeed there ever was.

An interesting fact about Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of Mona Lisa is that she has no eyebrows. Check me by going to images.google.com. Apparently women of this time shaved them off.

First of all, the following, like most endeavors into history, is entirely speculation since we cannot eat Leonardo da Vinci's brain to gain his knowledge.

The true identity of the subject of the Mona Lisa painting is not known for certain. No one knows for sure who it was because the work was never signed or titled by Leonardo da Vinci. Neither have there ever been records found indicating the work had been contracted. The title "Mona Lisa" was given to the painting by an early biographer (whose name escapes me, it may have been Giorgio Vasari) of da Vinci, who based the name on the memories of some old French man who had been only a child in da Vinci's time, and foggily remembered hearing da Vinci had named Lisa Gherardini de Giocondo as his painting subject.

The other popular theory is that this is a painting by memory of Leonardo's mother, of whom he was fond, despite being raised by his father. The background of the Mona Lisa is supposedly that of Leonardo's home town of Vinci (Leonardo da Vinci = Leonardo of/from Vinci). Leonardo was also big on word games: one example (this may be wrong) would be his portrait of Ginevra de Benci, whose name means juniper in Italian, had a background of juniper trees. The same idea may apply to the Mona Lisa, with the background of Vinci identifying its subject.

Also the pattern on Mona Lisa's bodice was very unusual for it's time. It is a style known as "knotwork". The word for knotwork in Italian is vincire. Again the wordplay implies the name Vinci.

These two facts coupled together make just as good an argument for the subject as Da Vinci's biographer. Again both theories are speculation, neither can be proven (or my Art History II professor likes to make up stories).

Another theory is that the painting was of Leonardo himself, as a woman. Apparently if you mirror his self-portrait onto that of the Mona Lisa, the features match up.

The Real Reason You Like the Mona Lisa

Sigh, there is only one occurrence of the word "smile" in the above writeups, yet the single reason our Mona Lisa survived to became the institution it is today is: her smile.

This is not a matter of divine inspiration, the conquest of the human spirit, or the soul of a man portrayed on canvas; there is a simple, mathematical, neurological reason why you enjoy looking at the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci froze Mona Lisa's smile in a superposition of emotional information. Perhaps we should not call it a smile at all, for it is both a smile and a frown at the same time.

Human sensory memory use two types of mass input for visual processing purposes: foveal and peripheral. Foveal vision is the focused center of our visual field and yields high-spatial frequencies, albeit for a small area. Peripheral vision, on the other hand, takes in visual information radially outward from the foveal focus point and does so with low-spatial frequencies. Both the foveal and peripheral processes are part of a grander system of raw visual processing which automagically oversees the distribution of visual information to the occipital and parietal lobes. Without getting too far into the neurological processes involved, your brain then determines which emotion the face intends to communicate.

In the case of the Mona Lisa, your foveal vision assumes her mouth is smiling because the sharp visual data matches up with other sharp visual smiles you have stored in your long term memory. However, the blurred peripheral data leads your brain to conclude Mona Lisa is frowning. The contradiction leaves you with a tickle of confused emotion powerful enough to propel the painting into prosperity.

For all of you out there who point to the beauty of fine art as proof of some greater universal good, just remember we're on your tail.


References:

http://www.eri.harvard.edu/faculty/peli/posters/ARVO03/ARVO03_RG.pdf - Excellent primer on human vision
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/2775817.stm - BBC news story on Mona Lisa's smile
Livingston, M. 2001 A spatial frequency interpretation of Mona Lisa. Science - Science magazine article on Mona Lisa's smile

Possibly the most famous work of Leonardo da Vinci was his Mona Lisa. It is, in fact, so famous that even as I type this, MS Word knows not to try and correct either Mona or Lisa (despite drawing red lines under the artist’s name). Coincidence though that may be, every one of us knows what it looks like, having seen it on television, film, advertisements and postcards. Pretty though it may seem to us, we know little of what the sixteenth century Florentines thought of it. Sadly, now, the original in the Louvre is kept behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass and an impenetrable layer of tourists many of whose sole intent is to be able to tick a box on their sightseeing sheet. If you tried to take a picture of the painting, all that would come out would be the reflection of a thousand faces (mostly, though I hate to stereotype, Japanese). The painting’s popularity has grown out of proportion, and most of the people who want to see it do not necessarily wish (or know how) to appreciate the artistic genius involved in its creation: somehow, the woman in the picture seems to be smiling pleasantly, sometimes sadly. She looks a little different every time we see her. She looks alive.

This effect is more deliberate and calculated than anyone who knew nothing about the painting’s creation could imagine. Leonardo studied the form of the human face (as he did with almost everything else). He knew more about the way we use our eyes than anyone who had gone before him. In his painting, he combined the correct depiction of a form with ‘harmonious composition’, in other words, making it lifelike. Many Italian masters had been able to do stunningly accurate drawings of animals and plants, but in doing so, all impression of movement or life is removed. Leonardo, with his insatiable curiosity and intelligence to back it up, realised that the more consciously we try to make something accurate, the less real it seems. This can be seen to be the case in the works of Mantegna, who was an expert in correct drawing and perspective but whose people looked more like statues than anything else.

Leonardo’s solution was his famous invention, sfumato – the technique of using blurred and mellow colours to merge one shape into another, always leaving something to our imagination. He found that the places most indicative of mood and expression were the corners of the mouth and eyes. If you look at the painting, you will see that these are the places that Leonardo has left indistinct, by letting them merge into a soft shadow. However, that is not da Vinci’s only secret weapon – you will see if you look at the picture that the horizon on the left seems to be lower than on the right. This gives the impression that, when you focus on the left, she is somehow taller than when you focus on the right. However, all this amounts to nothing other than a series of mathematical tricks if you cannot give the person in the chair the right form and shape, and Leonardo does this with great skill – he ‘fleshes out’ her form and paints her sleeve with its tiny creases and folds with such skill and expertise that it is hard for us to think that he could have been anything other than a genius.

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