Mona LisaLeonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–1506
Leonardo’s composition of Mona Lisa’s figure was a radical innovation as all conventional portraits of the era depicted women in profile. Such portraits were often commissioned by male family members to portray a woman’s social status and beauty. In contrast, Leonardo has left out the jewelry and decorative elements that focused on social standing and emphasized her personality.
Leonardo’s groundbreaking realism was informed by his study of human anatomy, combined with a mathematical understanding of perspective and bodily proportions. This can be seen in the way he has the subject veer, almost imperceptibly, as her body, then her head, and finally her gaze turn a little more toward the viewer in a perfect imitation of reality. Vasari wrote, “As art may imitate nature, she does not appear to be painted, but truly of flesh and blood. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating.” (The Art Story)