Discuss the following questions:
Have you ever seen the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci?
Do you like it?
What do you think of the Mona Lisa’s smile?
Read the extract from the article and answer the questions below.
Text: What is an Icon?
No wonder the theft of the Mona Lisa caused such frenzy and misguided suspicions when it was stolen in 1911. It is one of the most well known paintings in the world, and one that seems to have universal appeal. Why is this painting still as revered and coveted today as the day it was stolen, or as when it was first painted? When people from different cultures or time periods share an understanding of an image, that image can be considered an icon.
This figure of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day and seated in a visionary, mountainous landscape, is a remarkable instance of Leonardo's technique of soft, heavily shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's enigmatic expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal fame. Her tricky smile and timeless allure have inspired academic study and artistic emulation for more than five centuries.
There are numerous theories about Mona Lisa’s identity. According to Vasari, an Italian historian of Leonardo’s period, the subject is a young Florentine woman, Monna (or Mona) Lisa, who in 1495 married the well-known figure, Francesco del Giocondo, and thus came to be known as "La Gioconda''. The work should probably be dated during Leonardo's second Florentine period, that is between 1503 and 1505. Leonardo himself loved the portrait, so much so that he always carried it with him until eventually in France it was sold to François I, either by Leonardo or by Melzi.
Questions to the text
1. Who was Mona Lisa? What do we know about her?
2. What historical facts are known about the portrait?
3. Why has the Mona Lisa been so popular?
Song: ‘Why Mona Lisa Smiled’
Listen to a song by Chris De Burgh
From candles burning,
Shadows in the night,
People praying for eternal life,
But my mind just keeps on wandering,
Away from this serene and hallowed place,
To a woman's face;
She was lovely, lovely as a dream,
She had the beauty, the beauty of a queen,
They say that every man who meets her sooner or later will fall,
Even me that they call,
The Master of Invention,
The Painter of our times,
I can take you round the Heavens and show you how to fly,
T'was a moment caught forever,
There was something in her eyes,
But I wish I could remember why Mona Lisa smiled;
She sat before me, this woman so divine,
Something eternal was shining in her eyes,
Oh Lisa del Giocondo you opened up a world of mystery,
When you were looking at me;
Shame the Devil in my heart, but I can't stop thinking about her,
And what she's doing to me, doing to me;
T'was a moment of perfection,
The canvas never lies,
But I wish I could remember why Mona Lisa smiled,
Why Mona Lisa smiled,
Why Mona Lisa smiled,
Why Mona Lisa smiled.
1. Do you like Mona Lisa?
2. Why was an ancient image such as the Mona Lisa come to be chosen as an "icon" for the present age?
3. What does this choice signify about how we value the past?
4. How did the Mona Lisa develop its "iconic" status?