More than five centuries ago, an Italian painter said the eyes “embrace the beauty of all the world.” And if that’s not superlative enough, is especially striking in her direct address,” says Dennis Geronimus, the chair of the art-history department at New York University. “She makes eye contact with us, even if obliquely. This may not seem so revolutionary now, but it certainly was in the first decade of the 1500s, when Leonardo began the . Then, the meeting of a gaze between a beholder and a female subject in a portrait would have been extremely uncommon. As a rule, women were always portrayed in profile. It was a show of female modesty and decorum.” The Mona Lisa defies the laws of the patriarchy simply by looking at us. “To explain her shadow of a smile and her smiling eyes is to risk reducing her ineffable qualities to a formula,” says Geronimus. “Lisa’s likeness casts a spell on us by means of the power of suggestion. Therein lies her enduring magic—and Leonardo’s brilliance in attempting to capture the fleeting passions of the soul.”

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