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Michael Sell

Writing and Rhetoric Rhetorical Analysis

Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is one of the most critically acclaimed works of art in the world. It is a half-length portrait of a woman painted by one of the most renowned Italian artists, Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa has been viewed and analyzed by millions of people across the globe since the first brushstrokes were laid down on its canvas in 1503. Portraits such as this one, with a single sitter being the focus of the piece, were common during the time period in which it was painted. Many paintings were done as this one was, with a similar method of creating the image of a seated woman, also known as a Madonna. Leonardo da Vinci began painting this portrait in 1503 and was believed to have finished it four years later. Rumor is that the great artist was loathe to part with the painting, yet the painting was inevitably sold to King Francis I of France for four thousand gold crowns. It is generally said amongst art historians that da Vincis sitter was Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. The sitter is framed by a myriad of naturalistic backgrounds, ranging from a simple flowing river surrounded by overhanging trees to icy mountains rising to impossible heights. The purpose of the painting is to depict the memories of past travels from the point of the woman subject. The arrangement of the subject and her relationship to the setting along with the background itself, the color scheme and portrayal of the subjects clothing, and the expression of the woman allow the viewer to see da Vincis painting as an insight into the many travels a woman has experienced in her lifetime.

Michael Sell

Writing and Rhetoric Rhetorical Analysis

Lisa del Giocondo, the sitter and main subject of the Mona Lisa, is centered in the painting with a series of representational backgrounds surrounding her shoulders and head. The background is considered representational because you can recognize the woman clearly and the background, with a series of natural views, can be seen as an accurate representation of the world. There is a valley with what appears to be a road running through it, a river with a bridge crossing its untold depths, a series of rolling hills, a gently flowing river meandering its way along a bank filled with overhanging trees, and finally a series of icy mountains surround the upper portion of the painting. The variety of backgrounds present in the painting behind the foreground of the woman herself allows the viewers eye to flow from one to another, almost as if they are a series of memories, forever imprinted on this canvas. The early sixteenth century was still a time of great discovery and travel. The background of the Mona Lisa depicts a variety of places that easily couldve been seen and forever recorded in this womans mind. The placement of the spread of natural scenes along the womans shoulders and head make them appear as if they are arising from the very body they border. Due to da Vincis method of the sitter being at the forefront of the painting, an illusion of space within the Mona Lisa is created and thus the viewer sees the woman as very large and closer to the viewer in in the foreground while the background appears to fade away. The illusion of space, created by da Vincis method of the subject and its relationship to the setting cause the background to fade as the viewer looks from the bottom to the top of the canvas. The placement of the natural scenes, their variety, the creation of the

Michael Sell

Writing and Rhetoric Rhetorical Analysis

illusion of space, along with the timing of the painting of the portrait all make me believe that da Vinci is using this painting not only as a Madonna portrait but also to lay down the basis for the idea that the painting could be a reference to the travels the woman has experienced in her lifetime. The color scheme also plays an important role in portraying the purpose of the painting as a memoir of a womans travels in her lifetime. The first thing the viewer sees when they view the Mona Lisa is the woman herself. Her clothing is painted in dark greens and browns, her skin is a light cream color, and her hair is also a dark shade of brown. The colors and design of the womans clothes are traditional with the clothing of a woman who has recently, or still is, traveling. She is not depicted with her hair elaborately constructed and is not covered in bright, dazzling jewelry on her rings, wrists, and neck as most women were during this time period. Her hair falls simply around her shoulders and her clothes do not appear to be those of an extremely wealthy woman. The somber, almost woodsy colors, along with the attire of the woman subject support the idea that she is traveling or recently has been. The colors of not only the woman in the foreground, but also the background are important as well. In not one of the natural scenes depicted in the background is there a focus on the sun, moon, or similarly bright, attention drawing object. Not only would that draw the viewers attention away from the main subject, the woman, but would also clash with the color scheme of the woman. The natural scenes are painted in subtle hues, using primarily greens and browns again, following the colors of the womans clothing. These scenes, with the color scheme

Michael Sell

Writing and Rhetoric Rhetorical Analysis

used to depict them, appear realistic to the viewer. The realistic feeling of the background reinforces the notion that the painting is indeed a portrayal of the travels of the woman. The cream coloring of the canvas, shaded darker towards the left corner of the painting, above the icy mountains, is used to show the travels that the woman has yet to undergo. The almost blank canvas appearance leaves the viewers to imagine what travels are left to come. The expression of the subject painted often provides a strong influence on the interpretation of a painting. The woman in da Vincis Mona Lisa gazes at the viewer with a somber expression. However, her eyes do draw the viewer into what can be seen as a silent communication. It is my belief that her mouth is what determines her true feelings in this painting though. Her mouth has a slight upturn to it, creating the image of a slightly mischievous smile. This smile is what helps give the viewer the impression that this is no ordinary sixteenth century woman. She is a woman well travelled and knowledgeable. Tying back into the color scheme, the cream color of her face contrasted with the backgrounds colors of the river and rolling hills to either side of her head draw the viewers eyes onto her face. Thus, her mischievous smile along with the silent communication that she appears to begin with her eyes helps me imagine that she is trying to convey to the viewer the memories of her travels. The eyes and smile draw you in, and the background becomes the memories that she is trying to press forth onto you. It is my belief that da Vinci painted Mona Lisa not just as another Madonna of a sitting woman, but rather to convey to the viewer of this work of art that the woman being portrayed is trying to share the memories of her travels throughout

Michael Sell

Writing and Rhetoric Rhetorical Analysis

her lifetime as well as those to come. I believe he uses the arrangement of the subject in the painting and her relationship to the background brilliantly, placing a variety of naturalistic backgrounds surrounding her body to better convey this message. da Vinci also uses the color scheme extremely well to support that this is no ordinary, pompous, wealthy woman of the sixteenth century but one interested in the more common themes of her time, exploration and discovery. The gesture and expression of the woman are the last pieces to the puzzle, with her facial expression showing the viewer that not only has she travelled and is showing us where, but also that she wishes to do more. Conclusively, da Vinci is very effective in his methods of creating the idea that the purpose of the painting is to depict the travels of the woman sitter in his Mona Lisa.

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