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Mona Lisa

Author(s): Kenneth Clark
Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 115, No. 840 (Mar., 1973), pp. 144-151
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/877242 .
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174). At my age this is of no importance. Some of the greatest pictures ever painted have been portraits . What we should be looking to publishers for now are stronger signs of the pertinacity and high intellectual standards that have made Pevsner's 'Pelican History of Art' the most important series created since the War. since therein are counterfeited all those minutenesses that with subtlety are able to be painted: I44 This content downloaded from 89.EDITORIAL matically of the Bologna Exhibition catalogues. one of a certain Florentine lady. and libraries. The next mention of the picture is by Vasari in 1550. which has stimulated scholars who have otherwise been reluctant to publish their findings in monographic form. not all of them. and books devoted to an individual work of art. At least I can begin by sum- THE on 17thJanuary 1973 in the Lecture I. or even a committee. T.. It is possible to fill a small library with good books and catalogues produced since the War. There is now a greater interest in the psychological and sociological aspects. notably the Penguin series and Eitner's more elaborate treatment of The Raft of the 'Medusa' (Phaidon). Rembrandt and Velasquez to accept that statement. any lowering of standards is not. the other of St John the Baptist as a young man. there is much about which publishers (Phaidon. the standard work becomes not only out of KENNETH Mona Directors of THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE have had an admirable idea in sponsoring a series of lectures oi the art of portraiture. even though it may have originated in the contemplation of a real person. or of such individual works as 'Artists Rome' (1955) or Degas Monotypes(1968). To try to answer the riddle of the Sphinx has been a traditional form of self-destruction. left it unfinished: which work is now in the possession of King Francis of France. Zwemmer.179. It is always desirable. for a little more of the distilled essence that have made Kenneth Clark's volumes on Landscapeinto Art (I949) and The Nude (1956) among the most stimulating and enlightening works published in the last thirty years? CLARK Lisa marizing the facts as they are revealed by documents.117. for Francesco del Giocondo. in their different ways. He says that 'Leonardo showed the Cardinal three pictures. with virtually no text. Gombrich's Art and Illusion (I96O). those responsible for the series had a notion so perverse that I can only suppose that it was intended as a kind of ironical joke: that the series should begin with a lecture on the Mona Lisa. and yet the aesthetic theory of the last seventy years runs entirely counter to the fact of experience that a truthful likeness of an individual can be a great work of art.36 on Tue. whoever wished to see how nearly art is able to imitate nature. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .185). although very seldom possible. was readily able to comprehend it. has none of the qualities that move us in the works of Velasquez and Rembrandt. H. his wife. and after he had lingered over it four years. at Fontainebleau. the London National Gallery's superb volumes. and I hope that this may be the outcome of the series which I have the honour of inaugurating to-day. as well done as the Clark-Pedretti revision (1968) of Clark's old Windsor Leonardo catalogue (I935).I89) and the decorative arts quite as much as it does to painting and sculpture. It is only when the infinitely larger number of unsatisfactory volumes are considered that the overall picture is seen to be less happy. etc. Equally characteristic. with limited budgets. are the volumes in the Prentice-Hall 'Sources and Documents' series.' The rest of de Beatis's description is equally convincing. and he says 'all this I have seen with my own eyes. this situation has created a flourishing business in new editions and reprints. date but unobtainable. such as Wilde and Mahon. and is here published without change--ED. and also one of the Madonna and child who are placed in the lap of St Anne. comparative material and scientific examination. there must be more scholars working on more topics than ever before. The first reference to a portrait of a woman by Leonardo is in the account written by Antonio de Beatis of the visit on Ioth October 1517. in Seventeenth-century The development of the catalogue. the Council of Europe series. the successive parts of the Royal collection Catalogue (see p. Partly in response to the needs of new libraries. or as useful as the Cornmarket Press reprint of Waagen in eight volumes (1970). Time passes.' As the St Anne and the St John and a portrait of a lady are known to have been in the collection of Francis I there is a strong presumption that the portrait described by de Beatis is the so-called Mona Lisa. to narrow the gap between fact and theory. near Amboise. & H. In this head. Where authors are concerned.) can feel proud. There is no good trying to laugh it off or to think that one can explain it by the usual processes of formal or philological analysis. among so much intellectual activity. the role of patronage and art criticism. Kenneth Clark's lecture was delivered Theatre at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Along with the new degree of post-War professionalism there has grown up a much more flexible approach to art history itself. the portrait of Mona Lisa. done from the life at the instance of the late Magnificent. now take a hard look at volumes without the necessary apparatus. It is symptomatic that perhaps the most significant book of the era should be E. is less common. it is not usually a very satisfactory method (p. which I must quote at length: 'Leonardo undertook to paint. has had the effect of 'tightening up' art books in general. This mysterious objet de culte. Can we then perhaps hope. Although the revision of a standard work may have to be done by another scholar. by Cardinal Louis of Aragon to Leonardo when he was living in the Manor of Cloux.1 But having had this reasonable idea. a problem. and need not be. This applies to architecture (see p.we need think only of Titian. all of them most perfect. Giuliano de' Medici. It is one of the few works of man that may properly be described as unique. The beautiful picture-book. Faber. alas.

he retreated more and more into a private world. but this is painted with great finish. the painter of grace and movement. and also with small ones. Now to which of these five periods would we. It has certain delicate passages around the lips and the eyes that are more exquisite than anyone could hope to achieve. Vasari's much criticized description of his activities has a kind of symbolic truth. Note that this lady. and I must now turn to the stylistic or internal evidence. And in this pictureof Leonardo's. that they might makeher continue merry.indeed. he did spend a good deal of time on futile exercises. in a carved walnut frame. This could conceivably be the side door through which the Gioconda crept into history.in that it was not otherthan alive.36 on Tue. with much to-ing and fro-ing to Florence. but it has been treated with a varnish which has given it a dismal tone. In this period there appeared Leonardo the scientist. I will return to the question of the eyebrows later as they provide interesting evidence of the picture's material condition. he continued sporadically to draw and paint. either way. and so had never seen the picture. but his real interest had shifted from art to science.and the reinforcement of the Cathedral. with jokes and paradoxes to amuse the guests. he retained those who playedor sang. or it may mean that a tradition of the sitter's identity had grown up in the i i o years since de Beatis had visited Cloux. any more than there is evidence for de Beatis'sidentification of the sitter as a friend of Giuliano de' Medici. The dress is black. from whom Vasari drew much of his information about Leonardo. it was unfinished. by reasonof his having representedthe mannerin which the hairsissue fromthe flesh.There is also an intensified interest in anatomy and the movement of water.that cannot be depictedexceptby the greatestsubtlety. but does not mention his wife. as is evident from his description. by a short visit to Rome. It represents a woman of between 24 and 26 years old. the Last Supper. Fig. His approach to science was no longer mechanical. the face and the hands are so beautiful that whoever looks at it with admiration is LISA bewitched. 145 This content downloaded from 89. The first unquestionable description of the picture is by that most industrious and reliable scholar. It dates from 1625. in other respectsbeautiful.179. that is clearly the picture before you (detail. His observationof the forces of nature. but organic. This is all the written evidence about the MonaLisa that is worth recording.' Well. Finally. He says 'A lifesize portrait.seemsto be alive. occupied with great commissions.g. in truth.the structure of a skull. or arithmetical. The hands are extremely beautiful. and it shows how inadequately Vasari had been informed. in short. half magical. like all Leonardo's work. the miraculous eye undistracted by science or speculation. But what about his identification of the sitter with MonaLisa? There is not a shred of evidence. or dark brown. no doubt. First the young man in Florence.' Vasari had not been to Fontainebleau. in spite of all the misfortunes that this picture has suffered. also. and lacks only speech for all else is there. and.geometricalfiguresIn CodexAtlanticus. He had evidently been informed that the sitter was smiling. with various additional touches which make it more like a Fragonard than the submarine goddess of the Louvre.rosy and tender. both in style and sentiment. wind.and around them were all thoserosyand pearlytints.here more thick and here more scanty. second the official painter to the Milanese Court. but it was mechanical science that interested him . because in his growing distrust of the powers of the human intelligence. intensified. when Cassiano was recording his impressions of the picture at Fontainebleau. and practically all the great motives that were to occupy him for the rest of his life. But we may record that the Anonimo Gaddiano. that the sight of it was a thing more divine than human. on internal evidence. His researches into anatomy. He employed. in particular the problems of generation and the action of the heart. this device: Monna Lisa being very beautiful. be disposed to attribute the Mona Lisa? Obviously not the first two. it does refer to un tal Gioconda. Whoeverintently observedthe pit of the throat. first appear in small sketches done between 1500 and 15o6: the Battle of Anghiari. and they are a long way from the Mona Lisa. appeared. The eyebrows. water and geology.be he whom he may. but not entirely full face. Leonardo's career may be divided into five fairly distinct periods.MONA seeing that the eyes had that lustreand waterysheen which are always seen in the living creature. could not be more natural. He describes a realistic picture of a beautiful woman. of the Uffizi Adorationand the Virgin with the Cat. Third. while he drew her picture. seen from in front. saw the pulse beating in it. and even after his first move to France he occupied his mind with problems of architecture. the VirginandSt Anne. to be not coloursbut flesh. after his move to Rome in 1513 to work for Giuliano de' Medici. as Greek statues are. also. the fact that Cassiano had read Vasari. These were the years when Leonardo'sideas came to him in visual form. trembleand lose courage. Nothing could be less likely to produce the Mona Lisa's expression than a series of funny stories. as if she did not have them. and with its ends united by the red of the lips to the flesh tints of the face. I will begin by trying to decide when the picture was painted. Cassiano dal Pozzo. and provides an unconvincing explanation. the construction of machines. and continuallyjested. The fourth period begins with his return to Milan. the measurement of light passing over a sphere. That may be due to However. He continued reluctantly to work out the pictorial ideas of the Florentine period.the St John. which the painter has not recorded. half-length of a certain Gioconda. He mistakenly assumes that.also. This is the most finished work of the painter that one could see. stables for the Duke. is almost without eyebrows.117. and it was held to be a marvel. began to influence his sense of form. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Three of the portraits painted at the Court of Milan have survived. intensified his sense of the mystery of creation. says that Leonardo painted a picture of Francesco del Giocondo.therewas a smile so pleasing. And.2 However. and turn accordingto the pores of the flesh. one could say that it was paintedin a mannerthat made everyable artificer. both of thought and form. The mouth with its opening.i). and a renewed interest in arts of design. like the Sforza Monument. so that one cannot make it out very well. hot water for the Duchess's bathroom. togetherwith the eyelashes.the Leda. the return to Florence in 1500. The nose with its beautiful nostrils. Indeed the so-called ' E. in order to take away that melancholythat paintersare often used to give to the portraitswhich they paint. The head is adorned by a very simple veil.

The Belle Firronniere. Italian painters had long accepted the fact that portraiture was a Flemish invention.36 on Tue. although nobody who has looked intensely at her eye can doubt that she is by Leonardo. I do not agree. After 1512 Leonardo was not inclined to spend so much time on creating a dense continuum of paint. that Leonardo's careful studies of the Alps were made in Milan. But here a complicating factor appears that cannot be lightly brushed aside. Fig. and there can be no question that of the two periods the latter is the more probable. I find it much firmer and more detailed than the Alpine studies on red paper. the landscape of the St Anne (detail. made up of banks of fire.3) to be a fairly accurate record. dyed it with their colour. However. It is an extraordinary fact that amongst all the beautiful inhabitants of the Stanze there is not one whose pose is taken directly from the antique sculptures he studied so intensely.' Unfortunately this gets us no further. If the idea of painting a sitter half-length with head. Fig. But it does confirm. was invented by anyone. Fig. the Leda for over ten. and retained the lights of the sun on its apex for an hour and a half after sunset. there is no question that Raphael's pose is due to a common origin in Flemish painting. I would reply that there is no reason to date the picture after 1513. Fig. All this confirms my belief that the Mona Lisa was painted between I506 and I510. The only reason for dating the St John at the end of Leonardo's career is the feeling that anything so inexplicable must belong to his last mysterious years. pancreatic . So Leonardo could have been familiar with this type of pose in Flemish portraiture. The idea that he would have executed a portrait in the same pose as one painted in the preceding year by his most illustrious contemporary is inconceivable. intestinal. The background of the Mona Lisa is usually compared to a red chalk drawing at Windsor which shows a storm breaking over the foothills of the Alps. Assuming Raphael's sketch (Fig.on grounds of costume and its relation to Boltraffio. Flying back from Venice the other day. Although Raphael was the greatest assimilator in the history of art.4) is painted with a more than Turneresque freedom of handling. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the most finished of his paintings should have occupied him for several years.4) is almost a coloured drawing. In 1504 Raphael. The design came to him when practically all his visual inspirations came to him. who was preparing his portrait of Maddalena Doni. All Leonardo's projects were worked on for many years: the Sforza monument for over eighteen. and they show that in the years before his departure from Milan he had made expeditions beyond the foothills of the Alps into the regions of perpetual snow. If it be objected that the St LISA John shows an equally finished execution. between I500 and I504. but the two columns that are so prominent in the Raphael drawing are visible in early copies of the Mona Lisa. It is true that some of the drapery drawings for the St Anne are comparable to Leonardo's earlier draperies: but we do not know how far they antedate the picture. but of course she was based on a drawing or cartoon which had been executed in Florence about 1504. After all. as the Leicester Codex was used over a long period. the years after his return to Milan. And this drawing is related to a magnificent passage in one of Leonardo's notebooks. and transferred it to panel. By comparison the Mona Lisa's sleeves are almost like drapery drawings of Leonardo's youth. The head of the Virgin in the Louvre St Anne (detail. Finally. what is indeed evident from the drawing. must date from the middle or late 1490's. On almost every ground the Mona Lisa looks as if it were the work of Leonardo's fourth period. Umbilical. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . retaining the pose.179. One would have supposed that the Mona Lisa must have been painted at least a decade later than this decidedly unmysterious commission. she was wearing the ordinary costume of the time. because the rays of the sun.MONA Belle Firronnikreis so different that for a long time its authenticity was doubted. I saw a cloud. the Mona Lisa would have been only about seventy when Vasari was collecting the materials for the 155o edition of the Lives. the St John at least ten. he never admitted into his work a direct copy.4). and recognized that it was more restful and imposing than the elaborate pose of his own enchanting and Ingresque CeciliaGallerani. I would myself draw the opposite conclusion. When was it executed? Professor Pedretti believes that it was very late. body turned slightly to its side. when he was at work on the Leda and the second stage of the St Anne. Leonardo took his cartoon with him to Milan. without a veil. The great cloud drew to itself all the little clouds that were round about it. and the bases are still faintly discernable in the original.this is the drapery that reveals Leonardo's obsession with human anatomy. But of course he had something to go on: perhaps a drawing or even a cartoon on the scale of Leonardo's portrait of Isabellad'Este. and eyes looking straight at the spectator. and her hair was bound by a simple fillet. both of which represent quite accurately the forms of the terrain. did a pen and ink drawing which is unquestionably related to the Mona Lisa (Fig. the Leicester Codex: 'On one occasion above Milan. the St Anne for over twelve. and many reasons for dating it earlier. In spite of her repeated supplications Leonardo never carried this cartoon any further. And the great cloud remained stationary.5) is as accurately defined as that of his earlier Madonna in Munich. It was hard luck on her to have to give up her portrait drawing (but then so did Isabella d'Este) and she may well have made a point of asserting her identity. This is an overstatement. 146 This content downloaded from 89. The pose is often spoken of as Leonardo's discovery. whereas the landscape of the Mona Lisa (detail. I was struck by how one passed from the landscape of the Mona Lisa to that of the St Anne. But this is not born out by technical or documentary evidence.3). over in the direction of Lake Maggiore.117. and may conceivably have represented the third wife of Francesco del Giocondo. and Raphael may have felt fairly confident that he would not have continued to work on a drawing which had its origin in the portrait of an unknown Florentine lady. These record the observations that Leonardo had at the back of his mind when he created the lunar landscape of the St Anne. On the other hand. Not only are the similarities too close. Raphael's drawing is usually taken as evidence that the Mona Lisa was painted before 1504. Then the drapery of the Mona Lisa's sleeves has a classic sharpness very different from the disturbing folds in the St Anne (detail. it was by Jan Van Eyck. shaped like a huge mountain. that is to say before 1499 or after I5o6. that can be dated precisely in 1511. which was then setting red on the horizon.

But if Leonardo did visit Rome in that year. how completely Leonardo could transform a study from nature into an ideal head. to the newly opened gallery in the Louvre. But apart from this circumstantial evidence. which describes a portrait of the Marchesa in terms that. or Mrs W. it could have been for only a short time. Constanza d'Avalos. the picture was described in detail by Cassiano dal Pozzo in 1625. put in when the paint surface was dry. one had anticipated. Malraux. seems to have exerted her spell as soon as the picture was completed. This edition is extremely rare. Whereas all the other Leonardos in Francis I's Collection escaped from Fontainebleau. and we can reasonably suppose that the same process took place. whose paintings usually occupied him for years. and I am grateful to the Elmer Beit Library for supplying me with a photograph. It is based on a sonnet by a poet named Enea Arpino. should have completed this most finished work ad vivumin a few months.117. the warmest note in the picture. The most powerful of these claimants is the widowed Marchesa of Francavilla. Supporters of this theory maintain that the Marchesa could have sat to Leonardo in Rome in 1502. But there are only two areas of restoration. The Mona Lisa. It is inconceivable that Leonardo. and the identity of the Mona Lisa. and there remained. bulletproof glass. with the Mona Lisa. where. for some obscure reason. on the first cleaning. One of these. gradated to a darker tone but never coming near Cassiano dal Pozzo's description '0 negro o lionato scuro'. is the lower hand (the lady's right hand). which is unlikely. As we saw. from two examples. the same year as the first edition. The cloak is a rich and subtle grey. I hope I shall not be taken to court if I say that the dark green object that hangs almost invisibly in the Louvre is the original picture painted by Leonardo. although they contain no conclusive details. with the rest of the Royal Collection. each of which were the same size as that which contained the whole Windsor collection.H. One can see it a good deal better in an un-retouched black and white photograph than on the walls of the Louvre. will continue pleasantly to occupy the minds of those who have a taste for puzzles and acrostics. This suggests most strongly that Vasari's information was correct. The eyebrows really were drawn hair by hair. and even from the mouth. Try finding a book in the Library of the Escorial. Of course some colour has faded from the cheeks. And of course he recreated the face. they vanished. they will work out theories of substitution. Did he find another sitter? The close continuous modelling of the Mona Lisa's face can hardly have been done from memory. through Richelieu. The head and shoulders were engraved as an illustration to the French translation of Leonardo's Treatise on Painting. and was once much bluer. But we know. there is the extraordinary quality of the picture itself. I suppose that if all the early copies were put in a row (a nightmarish prospect) one might make LISA some sort of guess at which were painted in Milan and which (if any) in Rome. as every gallery director knows. In the end. This identification was put forward by Adolfo Venturi in his enormous history of Italian art. would fit the Louvre picture well enough. to an even greater degree. and still hits the headlines. People who own copies of famous pictures are exceptionally obstinate and ingenious. which is another reason for dating the picture earlier than 1512. and all authorities have agreed that Mona Lisa was painted over a long period. The other areas of restoration are in two small oblong patches where the eyebrows should have been. The picture is exceptionally well preserved. the uncanny delicacy with which light passes over the smooth white egg-shell face. there is also a certain amount of restoration in the left hand. without attracting any notice. as one can see in certain places where the varnish has worn thin. Every thirty years or so collectors claim that they own the original Mona Lisa: it is a sort of epidemic. green. Did the head belong to a well-known person? De Beatis's suggestion seems to be most unlikely as I cannot believe the picture is as late as I513. The majesty and finality of the pose. A searcher for clues might point to the prominence given to the word vinse. He probably added the landscape (Raphael had indicated the conventional landscape of his youth). But the beautiful colour is a surprise.2). and they will even go to the expense of lawsuits.3 it was the only pictureby Leonardo to be included. the effect is overwhelming. seem to have found their way into the great houses of England. which is entirely repainted. most of which. a vacant space being left for it. Needless to say. The fine edge of the lady's veil nearly disappeared 3 My thanks are due to Professor Pedretti for drawing my attention to the engraving which for some reason was omitted from the first edition in Italian. in addition to crowds and darkness. other names have been put forward from among the wives and mistresses of Milanese noblemen or of their French conquerors. But when one sees the original out of the frame and in strong daylight. the other illustrations being derived from diagrams or from reconstructions based on drawings by Poussin. and was inserted in the edition in French published in the same year. The sleeves are cinnamon or saffron. It has an impeccable pedigree. and means that the painter has surpassed himself. and repeated in his article on Leonardo in the Italian Encyclopedia. They were last heard of in Spain and may still be there. although some of its original beauty is still perceptible. The background is blue. for Leonardo certainly took it with him to Rome. The sonnet ends with the lines: 'Quel bonpittor egregioche dipinse Tanto bello sotto il pudico velo Superol'arte e se medesimovinse' Unfortunately the name of the bonpittor egregiois not given. till after the Revolution. It followed the French court from Fontainebleau to Versailles. The drawings for the head and hands may be in one of the two Leone volumes. it is obscured by a thick. they will have books privately printed. the Mona Lisa never left it. although that is pink enough. obvious in reproduction. as we should perhaps call her.36 on Tue. quite blue in certain places.MONA but gave the sitter a timeless costume and a widow's veil. They will discover the most bizarre evidence. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .H. and returned to the Royal Collection later. and so. Some of these seem to have been done in Milan. It was bought by Francis I for the French Royal Collection. 147 This content downloaded from 89. published by de Frdart in 1651 (Fig. the Angel in the Viergeaux Rochersand the head of the Louvre St Anne. for a number of accurate copies were made. like that of Mr W. was the sitter a real person? Or did Leonardo develop his first cartoon of 1504 by studies of the head of an anonymous lady whose mysterious expression had taken his fancy and allowed him to release certain obsessions? I doubt if we shall ever know. It is (I believe) upheld by M.. But I think it is only there to rhyme with dipinse. when it was taken.179.

While on these technical matters. The Mona Lisa re-entered the popular consciousness on this ticket. Finally the head. In fact it was not till 1859 that Thdophile Gautier wrote the first romantic description of the Mona Lisa: 'Beneath the form expressed one feels a thought that is vague. was the mother of Helen of Troy. and learned the secrets of the grave. and. This cleaning must have taken place after Vasari's informant had seen the picture. the femme fatale.117. the cleaning must have been done at least sixty years earlier. heavily re-touched. the animalism of Greece. the lust of Rome. Only ten years later a far more perceptive description of her character appeared in Walter Pater's essay on Leonardo da Vinci. He speaks of desires. for copies of it were made by Milanese artists. La Belle Dame sans Merci. as soon as an imitator takes any liberties with the pose. The allusions are not. and. It could be argued that the fame of the Mona Lisa was a by-product of the romantic movement. voices whose notes seem familiar whispers . It was first published in 1869. in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form.36 on Tue. the fact that any painter created such a disturbingly living presence is miraculous and goes some way to justify the old criteria. . accepts Vasari's statement that it is a portrait. we might fancy that this was but his ideal lady. But Leonardo evidently took one version with him to France. Did Pater really know that the Mona Lisa was being painted at the same time as the Leda and the St Anne? Or was he simply thinking of the two mothers. but before Cassiano dal Pozzo saw it in 1625. It is hard to imagine anyone in Leonardo's immediate circle giving the head a slight inclination and a different direction. images already seen pass before one's eyes. and keeps their fallen day about her. Strange that these frivolous objetsde luxe should derive from the solemn and mysterious Mona Lisa. but he immediately sees how inadequate this word is. 148 This content downloaded from 89. I cannot believe that she has ever aroused desire in anyone. . the result of rhythmic necessity. One is moved. and shows less than Pater's usual insight. whose longest and most confusing emanation is in Coleridge's Christabel. as the first poem in his Oxford Book of Modern Verse. and this cartoon could have been executed in Rome long after Leonardo's departure. Fifty years ago we all knew it by heart. after 1550. although our next thought is 'What kind of life?'. Pater. the mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves. but of an almost uncanny insight into Leonardo's picture. and. 'This is not art but life itself' comes back to one's mind. into which the soul with all its maladies has passed. She is older than the rocks among which she sits. chopped up into short lines. and has been a diver in deep seas. From having been to all critics from Vasari to Ftlibien a masterpiece of realism and finish. and the eyelids are a little weary. in particular of the romantic addiction to the femme fatale. the first part of that picture to be painted. but I feel certain that it is the work of an imitator. of course. hopes that drive one to despair stir painfully'. There. but for what it is: a piece of criticism that is not only deeply imaginative. and describes her dress as black or the colour of a dark lion. W. she became an embodiment of the mysterious. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come". As Cassiano says that the varnish had darkened. our very own. the whole character of Leonardo's perfect creation is lost. The original was probably executed in Milan and seems to have been popular. like the vampire. Well. But otherwise what marvellous precision. as Leda. The head has a look of Sodoma or Peruzzi. of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. embodied and beheld at last. All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh. the deposit. little cell by cell. the mother of Mary. and reprinted in 1873 in the volume entitled The Rennaissance. is our own. What was the relationship of a living Florentine to this creature of his thought? By what strange affinities had the dream and the person grown up thus apart. as Saint Anne. and but for express historical testimony. Mona Lisa: but Gautier was a thoroughbred romantic and he has not been able to escape from that favourite image of the romantic movement.and not at all like the finer cracquelure of the St John or that of the Christ Child in the St Anne. and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes.' One could have done without the sins of the Borgias. but remarkably precise. The old Vasarian phrase. for the first time. although she has often aroused repulsion. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity. infinite. is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. and quoted it.179.MONA at the same time. 'From childhood we see this image defining itself on the fabric of his dreams. the other of spiritual perfection? Can one add a word to 'beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh. and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments. and yet so closely together?' Then comes the description: 'The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters.The passage was once so famous that it would have been unnecessary for me to quote it to you. where it served as the basis for numerous pictures of ladies of the French court in their baths. saying 'Only by printing it in vers libres can one show its revolutionary importance. the return of the Pagan world. repressed desires. the Mona Lisa certainly does not LISA exert her fascination in this manner. changes which have completely destroyed the Mona Lisa's self-contained authority. and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants. This used to be claimed as Leonardo's original cartoon. with which one imagines oneself to have been fairly familiar. of which the best known example is a cartoon at Chantilly. A curious and inexplicable example is the so-called nude Mona Lisa. seems to produce a vibration of life which is really quite alarming. and how would they be troubled by this beauty. The process took quite a long time. which are something left over from Victor Hugo. troubled. those overwhelming desires that drive men to despair. but a satisfying formal invention will provide a limitless number of variations.' I will read it to you not as if it were a prose poem. Yeats thought it the beginning of modern poetry in England. inexpressible. i.e. the sins of the Borgias. and tinged the eyelids and the hands. one of carnal. B. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . she has been dead many times. I may add that the cracquelure of the Mona Lisa is very similar to that of the Belle Firronniere. as Yeats believed. This quality of inner life is lacking even in faithful copies and.

Leda herself. But one must recognize that the strong sexual impulse in Leonardo that was concentrated on Salai. and in two of them the pile of hair. There is only one mention of a woman in all the thousands of pages of his notebooks: 'Caterina. and developed a hatred of women that he could not suppress. One of these. who could depict a fiery ascetic of the desert with a smile and a gesture of feminine allurement. mentioning that Salai. the point of the Mona Lisa is precisely that she is a woman. What would that smiling.breaking the glasses. The plants and grasses that he drew with a devouring eye were certainly studied with the Leda in mind. either in profile with prominent genitals (some of these drawings are quite early). Indeed. stealing . In these same years of visual inspiration Leonardo executed the most human of all his works. which came more and more to occupy his thoughts. visofantastico. Leonardo's convictions did not blind him to the fact that the creative process. is intended to be a sexual symbol. as it is not to be found in the Oxford Dictionary of 1901).so that Leonardo had difficulty in keeping him out of prison. guzzling. It is a word of large coverage. As everyone knows.MONA little cell by cell'. Femininity is an essential element in this disquieting image. Round about the year 1480 he seems to have taken pleasure in the graceful movements of women and children. He could not get them out of his mind. It is central to Leonardo's art that natural objects. especially in the 1520's. with the same ingredients as a piece of Hindu . dates from the year of Anghiari. Leonardo. LISA he became obsessed with muscular legs. the figure kneeling. the struggle cost him dear. the charge was dismissed. by Leonardo himself. to have done so with any determination in quattrocentoFlorence would have decimated the ranks of the enlightenment. whom he calls his creato. including the rich and convenableFrancesco Melzi. He drew them again and again in two poses. was present in all his work and contributed to the alternating repugnance and detached fascination with which he viewed the opposite sex. But there are plenty of references to Giacomo Salai. But we should never guess from his Apocalypseor his Life of the Virginthat he was a homosexual. Yet Leonardo kept him with him throughout his life. as I have said. According to reliable contemporary evidence Donatello was a homosexual. He came to live with Leonardo on 20oth July 1490. and personally I believe that its plastic grandeur and the almost Phidian character that made Mr I49 This content downloaded from 89. who for convenience we call Mona Lisa. But there is not another trace of homosexuality in the rest of Donatello's sculpture. and finally mentioned him in his will. vividly and even scientifically observed. made. the quality of symbols. self-satisfied face have looked like if it had turned towards us? Please do not think I am suggesting that the Mona Lisa was painted from Salai: quite the contrary. was repeated. It was also more closely connected with the other observable processes in nature. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the cartoon of the Virgin and St Anne in the National Gallery. Of this Leonardo's drawings give a curious illustration. During his heroic Florentine period. adding in the margin ladro buggiardoghiotto. married his lieberAgnes. He no doubt formed other attachments. he was also making studies for a picture illustrating the myth of Leda and the Swan. The female part was long. but which is really essential to an understanding of the Mona Lisa. but his obsession with Salai was as strong and persistent as that of Proust with Albertine. was quite capable of transferring the attributes of one sex to the other. and crouched beneath the physical splendour of a young Florentine. Vasari could not omit it from his life of Leonardo. Byron had homosexual instincts which he sometimes indulged. appears on a sheet of anatomical studies dealing with the processes of digestion and generation. complex and a possible subject for investigation. There are six of the former and ten of the latter in Windsor alone.had thick curly hair. or stretched apart with frontal pride. But Leonardo.117. Michelangelo was a devout Christian. the face and the skirt suggest a girl.but these are sculpture . differing in technique. or to such a phrase as 'the soul. was predominantly a female process.36 on Tue. has the intricate coils of his anatomical drawings of the womb. But. In my catalogue of Leonardo drawings at Windsor I compare this figure (whom I refer to as female) to a drawing by the pre-Raphaelites. but his poetry is emphatically not that of a homosexual. At the time when he was making a portrait drawing of a young Florentine lady. but does not seem to have been followed up. In his drawings and engravings they are both monstrous and fiendish. the word homosexual. and he gladly allowed his homosexuality to penetrate to the depths of his being. Even her hair.the high breasts.179. to have been a wig. but this did not last long. no doubt. easy and beyond his powers of analysis. which we know. as we see her in copies of the lost original. almost all identical in imagery. But under the skirt are the muscular legs of symbolic virility. 1502 to I505. with all its maladies has passed'? Well. lying. and are graphic expressions of his feeling that grasses push their way upwards with the force of floods and whirlwinds. How foolish! What could be further from Rossetti and BurneJones than this frontal assertion of unisex. as even Vasari admits. in his mind. Leonardo leaves us in no doubt that he chose this curious myth because he could make it into an allegory of the irrepressible forces of generation. sta al'ospedale'. Years later he did a series of masquerade costumes intended to be graceful and feminine. and. achieve. the figure standing. from a note on another drawing. when he felt that he had been defeated. We know Salai only in profile. he was formally accused of sodomy in 1476. the years of Pier Francesco Ginori's Herculesand the Battle ofAnghiari. The male part in procreation was short. another tiny one. No royal favourite has ever got into more mischief. but there are convincing arguments for a later date. was not a Christian. and the David certainly confirms this tradition. in compliance with the moresof the Protestant north. the ddhanchement put together by an intellectual process without a spark of emotion. 'in which Leonardo took much delight'. and of expressing some of his obsession with Salai's smile in the smile of the Mona Lisa. Obviously these repeated legs have become symbols of virility. Only in the last ten years have we been made publicly aware that the theories of sexual psychologists were not fantasies. It used to be dated at the end of the 1490's. which apparently it did not. always included his name among those who accompanied him on journeys. although he tried to sublimate his homosexuality through neo-Platonism. and Leonardo writes a preliminary list of his numerous misbehaviours. there is one word that the conventions of 1869 would not have admitted (if indeed the word existed. Dtirer.

Ancient symbols come from the subconscious and continue to touch it. Leonardo was surely one of the most complex men who have ever lived.xvii. pp. who printed The History of the Modern Taste in Gardeningin i77I. In its warm and moving acceptance of the female principle it is alone in his later works. indicates that it was done in Florence and not in Milan. no less than in his drawings. Combined with his curiosity about nature and his horror at nature's power. the obsession with nature. She is older than the rocks among which she sits. And yet this theory may be too simple.The Mona Lisa is indeed the supreme example of perfection. it was the tenderness that prevailed.1 The hero of Walpole's History was William Kent. Nobody feels compelled to paint a moustache on the upper lip of Helene Fourment. [19431.. Chambers's transformation of Kew was typical of the radical changes undergone by many estates in England during the eighteenth century. so that it has become associated. and so perfectly balanced that at first we are hardly aware of them. He it was who 'leaped the fence. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . There are millions of people who know the name of only one picture . introducing his Plans. a familiar. we come back to the word used by the first man whose record of the Mona Lisa has come down to us: de Beatis. have been harmonized in a single work.. 4 Perhaps a pregnant woman. As we watch this watchful predator. A masterpiece of realism does not dislocate the traffic in Fifth Avenue. men have sought to achieve it by exclusion. As the Duc de Nivernois's title 150 This content downloaded from 89. with a rejection. their flux and reflux. U. and for a minute we seem to breathe the same air. or cause a riot in the National Gallery of Washington. And at the centre of these forces of nature. Elevations. Vol. even in such a great artist as Polykleitos. as has been argued very forcibly by Professor Kenneth Keele in an article in the Journal of the Historyof Medicineand Allied Sciences [1959]. Walpole's text appeared side-by-side with a French translation of it by the Duc de Nivernois et d'Onziois (Jules Louis Henri Barbon Mazarini Mancini) entitled Essai sur l'art desjardins modernes. How much simpler if I could have followed those earlier critics who saw in her only a masterpiece of realism and of pictorial skill. and whose smile is the smile of derision. Ltd.J. who is none the less perfectly detached. Since perfection is so far out of reach. the PETER From Desert to Eden: Charles 'WHAT was once a Desert is now an Eden'. wrote Sir William Chambers. Leonardo the scientist cannot be separated from Leonardo the magician. his restless leaps from one subject to another.the Mona Lisa. xix-xxix. and her gesture is the same.179. or at least a narrowing of experience. The science. as the formal style of London and Wise was succeeded by that of the English landscape garden. Air. Somebody must have the secret. logical in its structure. Rocks. the psychological insight are all there. I don't know. What has given her this power? Leonardo had no physical attachment to women. was the figure of woman. which by their fossils proved that life had existed on the earth long before the appearance of man. but so did nature. but as part of the creative process they obsessed him. although he did not allow it to appear until 1780 when it came out as part of the fourth volume of LISA two are constantly melting into one another.4 She became the symbol of all that was alien to him and yet had some magic power. and inspect this being who so confidently inspects us. In the Mona Lisa Leonardo has achieved perfection through inclusion. But that would be to close one's mind to events. and as he grows less confident in science the magician is in the ascendant. and as his eye actually rested on the Mona Lisa's cheek. water. and after 1505 Leonardo came to realize that he didn't know. the pictorial skill.MONA Berenson except it from his general anathema. WILLIS Bridgeman's'Capital Stroke'* his Anecdotesof Painting in England.2. partaking to some extent of their processes. In the 3rd edition of the History. ruthless in its operation. What is going on up there? You don't know. Zwemmer. Sections. capable of wiping out the human race. A belief in the concept of perfection is a kind of religion. The only record of his character to be printed in his lifetime says how he will not eat any meat nor hurt any living thing. His insatiable curiosity. The Mona Lisa is the magician's cat. rain.36 on Tue. and PerspectiveViews of the Gardensand Buildings at Kew of I763. their momentum. and his hand began to record the passage of light. An edition of Walpole's 'The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening'with an estimateof Walpole'scontributionto landscapearchitecture. 1 For details of editions see ISABEL W.dated 1785 and printed at Strawberry Hill. XIV.117.. philosophically it may be one of the few indisputable arguments that man has within him something of the divine. But not for long. No. for the St Anne's head is not so different from that of the St John. This is not simply due to an accident of accumulated publicity. we forget all our misgivings in admiration of perfect mastery. It means that this strange image strikes at the subconscious with a force that is extremely rare in an individual work of art. It is an indication that something very strange is going on outside the range of human understanding. Finally. N. He passes in a sentence from observation to fantasy. One of the most strenuous advocates of le jardin anglais was Horace Walpole. there was his extraordinary tenderness towards living things. in his notes. I may seem to have chosen a long and devious path to return to the subject of my lecture.Princeton. * This article is based on material from my forthcoming book CharlesBridgeman and the English LandscapeGardento by published by Messrs A. Mona Lisa is a new creation that has the magical power of a very ancient one. CHASE: Horace Walpole: Gardenist. fire. They horrified him. plants: all equally irrepressible. Perfectissimo. Such tenderness in physical action can well be combined with intellectual detachment or even repulsion.

Detail from Mona Lisa. Detail from Madonnawith St Anne. This content downloaded from 89. . (Mus6e du Louvre. Pen and ink. Engraving after Leonardo da Vinci. by Raphael.2."7L 3.36 on Tue. by Leonardo da Vinci. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .) 5 4. published 1651.) 4. (Mus6e du Louvre. 1504. (Mus6e du Louvre.) 5.i?""-:?". Head and shoulders of Mona Lisa illustrated in French translation of Leonardo's Treatise on Painting.179.by Leonardo da Vinci.117. Portraitof MaddalenaDoni.

36 on Tue. 18 Nov 2014 05:03:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .) This content downloaded from 89. Detail from Mona Lisa. by Leonardo da Vinci.179.117. (Musee du Louvre.i.