The Mona Lisa is important to the Renaissance period (1300 – 1700) because she represents large social and cultural changes that occurred. She represents the changes to the representation of women in society, she represents the change in thinking when it comes to art and art itself, including how it became much more realistic and what was portrayed. The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous works of Leonardo da Vinci and is even more famous today than it was in the Renaissance, and has been acclaimed as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”.
Overview- This painting is a half-length portrait of Madam Lisa del Giocondo painted by Leonardo da Vinci. She appears to be sitting and has her arms crossed in front of her, and there are mountains and a river behind her. The whole scene is very colorless and dull.
Parts- The woman herself is sitting with a slight smile, a semi low-cut dress, and her hair parted in the middle and curly. The fact that her hair is visible and not covered by the veils women in the Middle Ages wore shows a drastic change in societal thinking. The fact that she is the subject of the painting is also very important, there are no other people (men specifically), in the painting with her. Behind her is a drab scenery, there is some red ground that appears to have a path or road going through it, and there is a river flowing on the banks of the red ground. There appears to be trees directly across the river, and in the far back there are snow-capped mountains and possibly a glacier, a white mound of land, nonetheless.
Title- The title of this piece is the Mona Lisa, the word “Mona” was the contraction (shortened form) of the word “Madonna,” meaning “My Lady”. It’s title in English might be “My Lady Lisa”. The title gives away that the painting will depict a woman, or a lady, because of the word Mona, and because Lisa is a feminine name.
Interpretation- This painting is meant to depict a woman in a lifelike way, and it is possible Leonardo da Vinci’s intent for this piece was simply to have an ever-lasting representation of this beautiful woman. The message of this painting can be interpreted many ways. The first is that women are beautiful and deserve respect, as she is painted in nature, but is the brightest part of the painting, meaning the colors used for the scenery were intentional in order to show how she stands out. The fact that she wears a low-cut dress and no veil sends the message that women of the Renaissance should no longer be hidden behind layers of clothes. With only Mona Lisa as the subject, it sends the message that she is independent and does not necessarily need a man, she is even smiling, which could build that argument. Overall the Mona Lisa is heavily coated with multiple meanings supporting women.
Context- During the Renaissance, artists began to do autopsies on cadavers specifically for artful purposes. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael actually looked inside human bodies and observed the shape and contour of muscles and organs, leading to much more realistic art like the Mona Lisa. After the Black Death which spread all over the world through trade routes, labor became more expensive in Western Europe, which led to many peasant and worker uprisings, a raise in wages, and the end of serfdom. Also a result of the plague the middle class became stronger and powerful, and had extra money they didn’t have before thanks to the raise in wages, so they were more willing to spend their money on art and other luxury goods, meaning more artists were actually making and selling art, like the Mona Lisa.
Conclusion- The Mona Lisa depicts not only a woman no longer hindered by social beliefs/norms, but also a changed Europe during the Renaissance. It shows the social and cultural improvements of the time, and has a lot of history behind it, like the plague’s effects and how it led to new styles of art, and the changed views on women during the Renaissance.