Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci: Great Art Explained

Not just a meme, but a masterpiece – why the Mona Lisa earns its exalted place in art

Ceaselessly flocked by tourists at the Louvre Museum in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503-17) is perhaps the world’s most recognisable work of art. Yet, when you consider that the painting is a small and rather innocuous portrait of a silk-merchant’s wife, it’s easy to wonder – why is that, exactly? In this instalment of his YouTube series Great Art Explained, the UK curator, gallerist and video essayist James Payne argues that the famed depiction of a lady with wandering eyes and a slight smile isn’t just an inescapable cultural meme, but a bonafide masterpiece as well. Exploring the history, mastery and mystery behind the work, Payne provides a straightforward and comprehensive analysis of why, five centuries later, the Mona Lisa still matters.

Video by Great Art Explained 2 December 2021

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