My initial thought whenever looking at the Mona Lisa: She isn’t anything special. Normally, this sentiment would prompt one to quickly avert their eyes. Seek out something more worthy of the attention. But Mona Lisa’s famous name alone causes my gaze to linger on her image. I suppose what really keeps me attracted to the portrait is a question: What’s so great about her? Now, I’m no art buff or expert, so I can’t critique Leonardo da Vinci’s brushwork or technique. As a basic observer though, I can say without a doubt, that when I look at the Mona Lisa, I understand why some people are so captivated by her. And why others aren’t.
For me, it’s not her looks, nor da Vinci’s style or talent. The only thing left is that smile, if you can even call it that. I personally don’t see it as a smile as much as a smirk. And I suppose that’s where the mysteriousness of it all sets in, at least for me. Suddenly, I’m wondering: who is that smirk for? da Vinci? Her husband the merchant? The infinite number of spectators she knows will look upon her image and question why da Vinci would spend so much of his time and talent painting such a plain and austere woman like herself? Either way, I can’t help but think that the Mona Lisa has the look of someone who knows something that the rest of us don’t and that to me is what is truly fascinating about her. I don’t know if credit for that goes to da Vinci’s artistry or the mysterious woman known as Lisa Gherardini, who is thought to be Mona Lisa.
It might be natural for many observers to wonder and speculate about the process and mindset of the artist while working on their most prolific creations. However, I have no interest in going back in time and standing beside da Vinci and pressing him to tell me why he chose this woman, of all women, while he works to recreate the image of said woman. If I had the chance to meet da Vinci, I would only ask one thing of him: to point me in the direction of his muse.
If I had the chance, I would have liked to ask her if she knew that her appearance would still be wondered about, criticized, and debated about a dozen lifetimes later. That even postmortem, she is still living the life that all women are resorted to. Being seen and judged primarily on surface level attractiveness whether than our innermost value. I imagine her response to this would be something close to the expression forever frozen on that wooden plank. All knowing dark eyes, paired with a reticent tilt to the lips. The expression of someone at peace with the ugliness their mere existence generates in those that turn their noses up in vilification. The thing is, Mona Lisa doesn’t fit traditional beauty standards and she never will. She doesn’t even have eyebrows, and yet, she catches your attention, if only for a second. If not for the name, or even da Vinci’s talent, then for the proud energy she emits.
In 2019, five centuries after the death of its creator, what the Mona Lisa reminds me, as I think she should a lot of women, is that no one should get to decide your value based on how much you fit their narrow and superficial ideals. Our worth goes much deeper than that, even if it takes us some time to see that. If our growing obsession with filters, Botox, and butt implants proves anything it’s that many of us still have a long way to go to get over this notion that we have to meet others’ cultural standards of desirability in order to be noticed but I think Mona Lisa leads by example. Here she is-the most famous and talked about painting in the world. On top of that, here is also the image of a woman that has endured being criticized for centuries, kidnapped, and physically attacked on multiple occasions and still her infamous smirk has gone unaffected. If what they say is true, about her eyes being able to follow those looking upon her, then I’m willing to bet that it is simply the spirit of a woman daring you to say or do your worst.