The Mona Lisa, with her enigmatic smile, has been a source of puzzlement ever since Leonardo De Caprio painted her in Ancient Rome. It has befuddled great minds from Nat King Cole and his fiddlers three, to Bob Hoskins out of “Blockbusters” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Something has obviously tickled her fancy. But critics have argued over what that something might be for centuries without coming close to a satisfactory conclusion.
She isn’t laughing, she isn’t grinning and she isn’t showing her teeth like she would be if she was saying cheese, but she certainly has a twinkle in her eye, and her lips are poised as if she is thinking about something that is amusing her in some special secret way.
One school of thought suggests that she has just sat on a feather. Leonardo was famously not a pheasant plucker, but a pheasant plucker’s son, however he was on occasion known to pluck pheasants when his father was away on business. Had he been “only plucking pheasants ‘cos the pheasant plucker’s gone” when Lisa arrived for her portrait done that morning? Had sitting on a stray pheasant feather caused her lips to quiver and given her that famous expression that has won her a place in the hearts of so many? Perhaps it didn’t have to be a feather, perhaps she has just sat on the sticky end of a carelessly discarded paintbrush. Who Knows?
Another popular theory is that Leonardo had made her smile by painting the portrait without any trousers on. Or without any doublet and hoses on, or whatever it was that people like him wore in those days. Perhaps they were at the laundry. Perhaps he had covered up his nether regions by wrapping a towel around himself, only to have it fall away at the crucial moment when he was painting her face. Or perhaps the towel kept threatening to fall down and he made her smile by the amount of times he had to hitch it up and sort himself out. Who knows?
A third possibility is that Mona Lisa just found Leonardo delightfully funny. Some folk say that he was the wickedest, campest and most risqué man in the whole of the renaissance. Forever making suggestive comments and performing outrageous tricks with his palette and brushes. Who could keep a straight face with someone like Russell Brand sizing you up for a portrait and giving a running commentary on everything that crossed his filthy mind?
Whatever the story is behind the Mona Lisa’s smile, one thing is for certain. Even if a madman breaks into the Louvre and throws petrol and lighted matches all over her, the image of that smile will be with us forever. It is on tea towels, coasters, mugs, snowglobes and all manner of souvenirs and nick-nacks available at seaside gift shops and art galleries the world over.
Perhaps we should just accept that we will never know what caused the Mona Lisa smile, and just enjoy it for what it is. In all its almost nodding and nearly winking glory.