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.
What is it about the Mona Lisa that has inspired millions to swear that she is the most mysterious – not to mention the most beautiful – woman that has ever been painted?
Unity in Diversity
True artists understand that excellent work will possess a unified message. Pieces of art contain a variety of elements, but every single one of them should work in perfect harmony to leave participants with one impression… one message. Let’s think about the Mona Lisa in these terms.
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.
The result is a unified piece which draws our gaze to meet that of the subject, until we feel that we just can’t look away. And we leave with the feeling that we have witnessed the work of a true master.
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. And the eyes of this woman are both soft and full of strength, both familiar and mysterious. Somehow da Vinci was able to capture this on canvas, and that is the magic behind this infamous painting.
Mona Lisa and the Bible
Once I asked my fine arts students to compare the Mona Lisa to the Bible. They were speechless at first, but I think a comparison can be made between the two.
Consider the beautiful craftsmanship of the Bible. 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.”
As for personal connection? 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!
And finally, the Bible includes unity in diversity. Study Scripture, and you’ll discover wonderful variety and diversity of ideas. 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.
I’ll admit that comparing the Mona Lisa to the Bible is a bit 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.
This post was submitted as part of the A to Z Challenge, where participants agree to write an article that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, posting every day of the month of April (except Sundays).
Here on The Artistic Christian, my theme for the month is The Classics. Each day I’ll examine a book, film, or work of art that has become a beloved classic and discuss what has made it such a success, and what eternal themes it contains that Christian artists can use as modern illustrations.
For daily reflections from my personal travels around the world, check out my companion blog, A Shepherd’s Reflections, where my theme for April is Reflections From Around the World.