The Guardian

Why is the Mona Lisa smiling? You asked Google – here’s the answer | David Colman

Every day millions of people ask Google life’s most difficult questions. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries
People look at the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci at its new home in the Louvre museum, in Paris. Photograph: Lydie/EPA

Of all the world’s enigmatic works of art, it is probably the Mona Lisa that people are the most curious about. And indeed, it is hard to imagine why a 77x53cm painting on a piece of wood might be worth more than double the £340m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi last year. So – why is she worth so much? Why is she so famous? Why is she smiling? There are answers – but they only tell you so much.

It’s excellent

The best known of Leonardo’s few known works (less than 30 exist today), the Mona Lisa may also be the most complete, realising several key signatures. There’s his apparent use of the famed “” to sketch out the, or “vanishing point”. And there’s his , trademark painting technique (Italian for “veiled” or “shaded”), a sort of smoky softness over the whole composition. Combined, these effects pull in the viewer’s eye, giving the painting an almost hypnotic power at odds with its humble size and subject. And most famous of all is her faintly amused smile. As the 16th-century writer Giorgio Vasari described it: “A smile so pleasing that it was more divine than human.”

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