I love examining Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait with my fine arts students. They’re always amazed at the complexity of the painting, and how many small, intricate details come together to create the sense of beauty and awe that has led to such world-wide recognition.
And then I ask them what the Mona Lisa and the Bible have in common. Talk about a silent room!
Think about it. How would you answer that question?
Here are three similiarities:
#1: Beautiful Craftmanship
No one would argue that the Mona Lisa is both beautiful and artistic, but we don’t typically think of the Bible in these terms! The more I study Scripture, however (especially the original texts), I am constantly amazed at how artistic the Bible can be at times. From beautiful Hebrew poetry to clever New Testament prose, it is clear that the books of the Bible were not hastily written. On top of being God’s direct revelation to man, Scripture also reflects the perfection of God through literary excellence.
Some of this can be “lost in translation” in our English texts, but I love it when translators are able to provide an accurate translation and also reflect the artistic beauty of the original text. Take Isaiah 32:8, for example:
“But the noble man,
Makes noble plans,
And by noble deeds he stands.”
#2: Personal Connection
Those who see the Mona Lisa in person swear up and down that her eyes follow them wherever they go. R.A. Scotti wrote, “Mona Lisa only has eyes for me. There is no other. No one more interesting, more intelligent, more compelling. And what is extraordinary, if a dozen others crowd into this room, each one will feel the same.”
Of course, we know that this is a result of the artist carefully arranging each detail of the painting to naturally draw our eye to the unrelenting gaze of Mona Lisa.
An amazing fact about the Bible is that no matter who reads it or what their background, it speaks to them in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit is able to take the timeless words of Scripture and apply it to whatever situation we might be going through… what a beautiful thing!
#3: Unity in Diversity
Here’s where the Mona Lisa really gets interesting. Every single aspect of the painting is part of the artist’s plan to draw our eye to meet those of the subject. The painting uses warm, dark colors everywhere except for the light “halo” around Mona Lisa’s face. The background behind Mona Lisa is asymmetric, causing our eye to simply not take notice. And why is Mona Lisa sitting in such an uncomfortable pose? Take a ruler and measure the shape of her body, and you’ll discover that Mona Lisa’s body forms a perfect isosceles triangle. This mathematical perfection draws our eye to the peak of the triangle, which brings our eyes to meet hers – every single time.
Now study Scripture, and you’ll see an even greater sense of diversity and wonderful variety. Scripture includes poetry, wisdom literature, historical accounts, prophecy, and more, and includes a variety of styles and literary techniques. Yet every word of Scripture works in perfect harmony to point us to one Man: Jesus Christ. Give it a try sometime. Read through any passage of Scripture and study it to make sure you’re reading it in its proper context, and you’ll discover that the entire biblical account is telling a single story: the story of how God created man, how man fell away from Him, and how He has worked and still works to redeem mankind back to a loving relationship with Himself through the life and work of Christ.
The intentionality and masterful excecution of da Vinci’s painting leaves me speechless, but the intentionality and masterful writing of Scripture brings me to my knees in absolute worship and reverence.
A Surprising Relationship!
I’ll admit that comparing the Mona Lisa to the Bible is a lot like comparing apples and oranges. They’re an unlikely pair, to be sure. But if the comparison leads to our studying and appreciating the Bible the way we study and appreciate works of art (and even more so, since the more we discover the more we will want to know), then it is a comparison I’ll continue to throw out there.
Scripture is full of ancient artistry, challenging mystery, and beautiful truth. See? Perhaps the Mona Lisa and the Bible do have a few things in common.
And failing to stop and appreciate either one would be – in a word – unthinkable.
 Martin, David and Jacobus, Lee. The Humanities Through the Arts, 8th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2011.