9/10/12- “Ways of seeing” the Mona Lisa

Most people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s notorious painting “The Mona Lisa”.  Its display in the Louvre is a common tourist attraction, and the art piece is often featured in movies, cartoons and on T-shirts.  Yet, as accustomed as I am to seeming the painting, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have never even noticed the scenery behind the subject’s figure.  Perhaps this is because I am usually too mesmerized by the woman’s eyes, which seem to see right through me.  The slight smirk on her face appears to indicate that she knows my secrets and is not fooled by my artificial exterior.

However, now that the background was pointed out to me, I cannot help but wonder about the scenery as well.  Instead of only depicting one location, the backdrop of the painting seems to include a combination of settings and landscapes.  In fact, the many different scenes remind me of the variety of climates and views that I encountered during my year in Israel.  On a three-day hike from one end of Israel to the other, I trekked through mountainous deserts, trudged through rocky streams, tripped in deep forests and climbed tall cliffs.  Similarly, the “Mona Lisa”’s complex and mysterious landscape contains a mixture of paradoxical and extreme settings.  A road in a dry desert leads directly to a vast body of water.  Tall mountain peaks are juxtaposed with the dark river and land.  This blend of regions creates a sense of timelessness to the painting; different viewers would have been exposed to different locations, and so everyone would be able to relate to the variety of areas.  The blurred and smoky aspect of the background creates an aura of mystery and uneasiness that brings that brings the viewer’s eyes back to the woman’s face for comfort.  Perhaps this is why I never noticed the background!