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The portrait shows the subject sitting upright and sideways in a chair, with her face and chest turned slightly towards the viewer. Her left arm sits comfortably on the armrest of the chair and is clasped by the hand of her right arm which crosses her front. The slightly protective position of her arms, as well as the armrest, creates a sense of distance between sitter and spectator. The background landscape behind the sitter was created using aerial perspective, with its smoky blues and no clearly defined vanishing point. It gives the composition significant depth, although its details reveal a clear imbalance between the higher rocky horizon to the right, compared to the lower flatlands stretching away on the left. This imbalance adds to the slightly surreal atmosphere of the picture. This was not a deliberate act of the artist, as scans indicate that originally, she was given both. It is possible that the colors used for these facial features has since faded or been inadvertently removed during cleaning.
The Mona Lisa exemplifies Leonardo’s contribution to the art of oil painting, namely his mastery of the use of fine shading. This painterly technique involves the smooth, almost imperceptible, transition from one color to another, by means of ultra-subtle tonal gradations. Another slightly surreal feature of the Mona Lisa is her lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. Evident throughout the painting, Leonardo’s use of use of fine shading is particularly visible in the soft contouring of Lisa’s face, around the eyes and mouth. The serenity comes from the muted color scheme, the soothing use of fine shading tonality, and the harmony created by the sitter’s pyramid-shaped pose and understated drapery. The mystery stems from a number of factors: first, her enigmatic half-smile; second, her gaze, which is directed to the right of the viewer; her hands which have a slightly unreal, lifeless quality – almost as if they belonged to a different body. Mona Lisa’s form appears simple, but her pose is highly calculated. Leonardo uses geometry to make the sitting figure seem realistic. He turns the torso slightly to the left, while her eyes look directly at us. The eyes fix the viewer with an amused gaze, complementing the slight curve of her mouth. The transition of tone at the corners is gentle and lifelike. The brings life to the composition.
The use of perspective, with all line converging on a single vanishing point behind Mona Lisa’s head, and triangular composition established the importance of geometry in painting. The background landscapes behind the Mona Lisa’s is jagged peaks, winding, roads, receding waters. Behind her head, it is smoky blues and no clearly defined single vanishing point, are two landscapes in the background. The horizon in the landscape on the right is higher, offering a bird’s eyes view of the scenery, and there is no way that this landscape can connect with that on the left, which offers a lower viewpoint. The place where the landscapes would have to meet is hidden by the head of the Mona Lisa. Starting with dark undertones, Leonardo built the illusion of three-dimensional feature through layers and layers of thin, semi-transparent glazes even the Mona Lisa’s pupils were composed of successive gauzy washed of pigment. The imbalance adds to the slight atmosphere of the painting. in this way, Leonardo avoided the over-shaped precision and stiffness of earlier portraiture. Tones blend into one another, and the landscape melds with the human figure, the cosmos with humanity.
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