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Art History - The Renaissance

Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" vs. Portrait of a woman: known as "La Belle Ferronniere"


Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" (left) is an exquisite work of art. Compare the "Mona Lisa" to another work of art by Leonardo Da Vinci: "Portrait of a woman", known as "La Belle Ferronniere" (right). One can see similarities and differences between these two paintings by the same artist, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" was painted in 1510-1519 A.D.; the medium is oil on wood; and it is housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris (Bartz & Konig, 2001). The "Mona Lisa" was Leonardo's most famous painting (Krausse, 1995). Furthermore, the "Mona Lisa" was one of Leonardo Da Vinci's most favorite paintings that he felt that he could not part with, and he still possessed it when he died (Kleiner, Mamiya, & Tansey, 2001). No-one really knows who the identity of the sitter for the "Mona Lisa" was (Krausse, 1995). Vasari, who wrote about the origin of the "Mona Lisa" without ever seeing it, said that it was a portrait of the wife of Francesco del Gioncondo (Krausse, 1995). The "Mona Lisa" is also called "La Gioconda" which means "the joyful one" (Bartz & Konig, 2001).

"Portrait of a woman", known as "La Belle Ferronniere" was painted in 1495-1499 A.D. ( Bartz & Konig, 2001). Hence, "Portrait of a woman", known as "La Belle Ferronniere" was painted earlier than the "Mona Lisa". The medium of "Portrait of a woman" is oil on wood, and it is housed in the Louvre Museum (Bartz & Konig, 2001). "Portrait of a woman" was possibly a painting of a woman named Beatrice d'Este, the wife of Duke Ludovico il Moro of Milan (Bartz & Konig, 2001). "Portrait of a woman" was henceforth owned by Francis I (1494-1547A.D.) (Bartz & Konig, 2001). During the time that "Portrait of a woman" was owned by Francis I, the painting became famous under a false name, that of a mistress of Francis I, who was the wife of M. Le Ferron. Hence, the painting came to be known as 'La Belle Ferronniere", even though the original sitter for the painting probably was not Mrs. Ferron (Barz & Konig, 2001). The confusion about the name of the painting, was further magnified by the fact that the woman in the painting has a "ferronniere" adorning her forehead (Barz & Konig, 2001).

Similarities: The similarities between the "Mona Lisa" and the "Portrait of a woman" are that both are a portrayal of a beautiful woman; both have a pleasant expression on their faces; both women are posed with their body turned approximately 35 degrees to their right; both women have their head slightly facing their left so that their face is turned forward; and both women's eyes glance gracefully to their left. Were both these women glancing at their lovers, or taking notice of someone else? The expressions on both of these women's faces gives room for speculation of whether or not they are simple and shy, or calculating and confident. No matter what the viewer gleams from admiring each of these elegant oil paintings, the answer is locked in history and in the heart of the artist who painted these two works of art, Leonardo Da Vinci. Studying the history of these paintings and the history of the artist who created these two works of art, can shed light on and provide a greater dimension to the viewer's perspentive on these works of art.

Differences: The differences between the "Mona Lisa" and the "Portrait of a woman" are as follows: 1) The background of the "Mona Lisa" is a natural, landscape setting. However, the background of the "Portrait of a woman" is a plain,dark color with no landscape. 2) The sitter in the "Mona Lisa" is wearing no jewelry. However, the sitter in the "Portrait of a woman" is wearing a necklace and a "ferronniere" adorning her forehead. 3) The color of the dress in the "Mona Lisa" is a plain, dark color. However, the color of the dress in the "Portrait of a woman" is red and gold, which are more vibrant colors.





About the artist, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519 A.D.) was a famous Italian painter of the High Renaissance (Wirtz, 2000). In addition to being a painter, Leonardo was a sculptor, architect, and engineer (Wirtz, 2000). Florence was known as the "flowering city" for art during the Italian Renaissance (Wirtz, 2000). Leonardo lived in Florence, Italy, from 1469 A.D., and he worked from 1471 A.D. to 1476 A.D. as an apprentice in the workshop of the painter Verrocchio (Krausse, 1995). In 1472 A.D., Leonardo painted the "Annunciation" which is a painting of an angel visiting Mary (See the link to the "Annunciation" in the left margin) (Krausse, 1995). Leonardo's outstanding artistic work had its rewards; for Leonardo was employed by the French king from 1507 A.D., and in 1515 A.D. Leonardo went to France and was given an estate and was awarded the highest honors (Krausse, 1995).


Important Definitions:


Chiaroscuro is an artistic technique wherein a strong contrast between light and dark is utilized. Leonardo Da Vinci used chiaroscuro in his painting of the "Mona Lisa".

Atmospheric perspective.

Atmospheric perspective creates an impression of spatial depth. Objects and landscapes in the background are painted smaller in proportion to distance. Also, the further away objects in the background are, the less color intensity they have resulting in a bluish hue. Atmospheric perspective is also called aerial perspective.


Sfumato is a style used by Leonardo Da Vinci to convey a smoky appearance where there are soft transitions and haziness in outlines and colors.


The word Renaissance means "rebirth". It is a term used for the art of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Renaissance was a time of the rebirth of the intellect and a blossoming of the arts. The center of the intellectual and cultural rebirth of the 15th century was Florence, Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci worked in Florence, among other important artists, during the 15th century.

In the left margin, are links to works of art by the four most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance: Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian. Also, in the left margin is a link to a student survey.


Bartz, G. & Konig, E. (2001). Art & Architecture: The Louvre. Oldenburg: Konemann.

Kleiner, F., Mamiya, C. & Tansey, R. ( 2001). Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Vol. II. N.Y.: Harcourt College Publishers.

Krausse, Anna C. (1995). The Story of Painting From the Renaissance to the Present. Hong Kong: Konemann.

Wirtz, Rolf C. (2000). Art and Architecture: Florence. Oldenburg: Konemann.

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