Mona Lisa syndrome
HISTORY OF MEDICINE
Per medical historians, the Mona Lisa smile should be called La Giaconda grimace (see bottom image). Crohn’s disease was once favoured as the trigger for the pained look. More recently, the money is on muscle contracture following facial nerve (Bell’s) palsy.
The paint had barely dried on DaVinci’s portrait of (Monna, a contraction of mia donna, my lady, now, Mona) Lisa Gheridini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (to the Italians, the painting is known as La Gioconda), when doctors started speculating as to the disease that evoked her wan smile. We’ll never know.
Reference www.artsandopinion.com/ 2003_v2_n1/gurstein.htm
In stark contrast to most art, the Mona Lisa has transcended spatial and temporal limitations, drawing an astounding 5.5 million visitors to the Louvre each year to see the surprisingly small 20” X 14” portrait. As the most famous painting in the world, all of us have been bombarded by its reproductions in postcards, advertisements, posters, T-shirts, and so on. Below is an article by Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic, pared
down to a more telegraphic form.
From the moment that the Mona Lisa was first seen by Leonardo’s contemporaries, it has been an object of admiration and fascination. Giorgio Vasari, an early commentator in Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568), praised Leonardo’s “divine” skill and depiction of the face. Almost immediately, the distinctive pose of crossed hands and turning body became an exemplar of portraiture. Indeed, it was imitated so often by Leonardo’s contemporaries that it came to be known as the Gioconda pose. Mona Lisa was painted in oil on wood between 1503 and 1507 by da Vinci, one of the three greatest masters of the Renaissance. Where other once-celebrated works of art also linger on as physical entities into our own time, most of them no longer speak to us. So even though they occupy the same physical space as we do, they are hopelessly stranded in their own time and place.
Rochelle Gurstein, The Mystic Smile: Becoming Mona Lisa, The New Republic.