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Lisa is a Mona: Challenging Victorian Gender Assumptions

Melad Abou Al-Ghanam and Denielle Jackson

Ryerson University

Interpretations of Mona Lisa
Reappropriations of the Mona Lisa
During his lifetime, Leonardo Da Vinci  made monumental contributions to science, engineering, architecture and various other fields of study. However, he is most and foremost remembered for creating the Mona Lisa. The painting, which celebrated its 500th birthday in 2006, has achieved high iconic status and very much lives in our popular culture today. It’s difficult to look at the Mona Lisa without thinking of the many different ways in which the image has been used and the different meanings and interpretations it has been assigned. Leonardo's 16th century painting, also known as La Gioconda, is considered by many to be the most famous painting in the world. The Mona Lisa did not become widely recognized until the mid-19th century when artists of the emerging Romantic Movement began to acknowledge it and associated it with their ideas of feminine mystique.@ Many have recognized the Mona Lisa as a representation of the quintessential femme fatale. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a femme fatale is a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire. The Mona Lisa is arguably one of the first and most famous representations of a woman as a complex human being. Her enigmatic smile and piercing eyes suggest mystery and knowledge beyond a woman’s traditionally thought intellectual capacity.
Much of the Mona Lisa’s fame can be attributed to Victorian literature and culture and more specifically the works of Walter Pater and Michael Field amongst many others, who immortalized the painting with their subversive writing. This digital exhibit closely examines two different Victorian texts about Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The first text is Notes on Leonardo Da Vinci by essayist and art critic Walter Pater. The second text is La Gioconda by Michael Field. Both authors challenged Victorian gender assumptions through the way they read the painting in an era marked with conformity, conservatism, and specific gender roles.
Leonardo Da Vinci