[NetBehaviour] Mona Lisa research on bridge/garment composition and themes

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 15 02:34:29 CEST 2020

Hi all,

I found this in the Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter, Issue 38, 2012, Birkbeck College, regarding the bridge in the Mona Lisa:

"Robert Zwijnenberg (University of Leiden) spoke on ‘Walls and Bridges’.  A crucial issue is how we relate to historical (as opposed to contemporary) painting, for which knowledge of the artist and his intentions is inevitably lacking. A work of art has a special visual presence: it captivates through its visuality; it is a work of art because of the aesthetic experience that it prompts. Most art historians strive for objectivity, refusing to acknowledge their engagement with the work of art, or the role of their personal experience; but the approach to a work of art depends of the self-reflective capacity of the historian. Zwijnenberg admits to feeling uneasy before the Mona Lisa, feeling that something is not right: the bridge in the right landscape, which ‘is a carbuncle disfiguring the painting’. The landscape is connected with the sitter only by the bridge; there is no other sign of human activity
Mona Lisa is a microcosm within the macrocosm of the landscape; the bridge ‘bridges’ the microcosm and the macrocosm; it is a meta-pictorial element within a hostile landscape. The bridge derails the universality of the landscape,which is no longer self-contained, no longer has autonomy and trans-historical validity. In the Madonna and Child with St Anne, on the other hand, there is strict distinction between the foreground and the background landscape, which is remote and unattainable. Its palette is distinct; there is no human activity; it is a wasteland of nature untamed, a challenge to humankind within the reassuring context of Christian iconography. Here we experience what it truly means to respond to a painting, a trans-historical image."

page 9

This confirms that the bridge is what brings the visual and conceptual focus back to the sitter.  There is some sense to its function of bridging the macrocosm to the microcosm.  But its flowing directly into the vortex-shaped shawl is not mentioned at all!

I have been referred to the work of Matthew Landrus, who focuses on Leonardo's work as an engineer and city planner.  I am hopeful there will be additional discussion of the meaning of the bridge.

It's like all the pieces are there, someone just needs to put them together!  Just like Calvino says in Six Memos.

All best,



This article by Frank Zollner, 2006, mentions the garment but not the bridge.

Leonardo's Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo<http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/artdok/157/1/Zoellner_GBA_93.pdf>
3 nardo's second Florentine period (i.e. 1500 to 1506) and gives the collection of Francis I. at Fon-tainebleau as the location of the painting.18 This information seems to be correct because in c. 1542 Leonardo's `Mona Lisa' and other paintings of Italian artists embellished the `Salle du Bain' at Fon-
Zollner is quite a realist, one might say, favoring simple, well-documented explanations for details which others amplify or exaggerate into conspiracy-laden symbology; that said, the conception of the garments as depicting the relationship of beauty to virtue still aligns with the bridge-garment hypothesis:

"Still, a black veil in a Florentine portrait is certainly unusual and therefore Lisa's veil demands an explanation which goes beyond the general reference to virtue and social conduct. Such an explanation may be found in contemporary fashion; in fact, right at the beginning of the sixteenth century black or dark clothes were `en vogue' and considered a sign of splendor and dignity. This
fashion, which originated in Spain, was inaugurated in Italy and most prominently displayed at the
wedding of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d'Este in 1502.  We can assume that all persons involved
in the commission - Leonardo, Francesco del Giocondo and his wife Lisa - had heard of those fashionable and noble black garments. Indeed, in the years preceeding his commission for Lisa's portrait, Leonardo had made the acquaintance of both Lucrezia Borgia's brother (Cesare) and Alfonso d'Este's sister (Isabella). Francesco del Giocondo, as a merchant of silk and cloth, would have been
aware of recent trends in fashion, and we can also assume that his wife Lisa - as most women - had
heard of those fashionable garments. Thus Lisa's black veil and the predominantly black or dark
colors of her dress may have been inspired by a fashion inaugurated a year prior to the commission
of her portrait. One should perhaps also consider whether Lisa's darkish garments were intended to
avoid a then-topical conflict between the regulations for women's dress on the one hand and fashion
on the other. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a modest style of dress was recommended for every
woman and sumptuary laws strongly suggested modest garments in order to guarantee the morally
sound appearance of the female citizenry. Considering this situation, Lisa's black veil and darkish
outfit may have been a compromise between the current requirements for women's dress, a personal
wish for expressing her virtue and her desire to be dressed fashionably. Indeed, in her portrait, Lisa
could have looked both fashionable and virtuous. We can accordingly propose that general notions
about women's dress and virtue, as well as fashion and possibly her own taste, influenced the appearance of Lisa's portrait."

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20200415/10a00ca7/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list