Her Many Faces

Mona Lisa Studio in Kami no Shizuku (2009 Japanese Drama)

“Evaporated like smoke”—that is one of the original meanings of the Italian word sfumato, which in the context of art refers to the gradual, imperceptible transition from one color to another in a composition, a technique that generates soft outlines in paintings. Producing an appearance that feels as if “a veil of smoke had drifted between the subject of the painting and the viewer,” this method is most prominently associated with Leonardo da Vinci and the artwork that enjoys the greatest fanfare over the world, Mona Lisa. Not unsurprisingly, the mystery surrounding the identity of the sitter, the meaning of her enigmatic smile and the relationship between the painting and its many replicas adds to this layer of smoke in a figurative sense. The most fundamental puzzle, though, must be why a yellowing portrait of a plainly dressed woman who meets neither the beauty standards of her time (1400s) nor those of the 21st century continues to captivate people in spite of the intense competition. While publicity, mystique and pure admiration for the painterly techniques employed probably contribute to a very large part of its appeal, genuine beauty may yet be found in the lady.

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