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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the single most crowded room in the Louvre but for good reason this is the room that holds the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci without a doubt the most famous painting in the world of course it's your smile that's so famous today and it certainly is a smile that doesn't clearly tell us what she's feeling it's ambiguous and I think it allows people to read into it in any way that they prefer Sigmund Freud for example saw a combination of maternal gaze but also a gaze that was flirtatious and I think I do see both of those aspects here this is a portrait of the wife of a florentine merchant and as we look out at the sea of people taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa it's good to remember that only the elite could have their portrait painted during the Renaissance this was an expensive proposition and of course you'd have to go and sit for the artist many times that he could capture your likeness because they were expensive they were reserved for kings and queens and the nobility what we see during the Renaissance is the growth of the merchant class and the fact that a wealthy merchant would hire Leonardo to paint his wife's portrait is a reminder of the fortunes that are being made by traders by bankers and others during the Renaissance well especially in the city of Florence which was such an economic hub during the Renaissance and we know in fact that the patron of this painting was a cloth merchants this Muni has quite a number of innovations but one of the most important is that it's half length generally portraits were busts that is from the chest up this was an incredibly influential new formula for the portrait if you think about the standard form of the portrait before this with the figure in profile bust length it's a very static pose very formal very stiff but as soon as Leonardo turned the head toward us position the shoulders three-quarter toward us also and included the hands suddenly we had an image of a figure that was much more natural someone who you could imagine having a conversation with portraits that included a background and that also included the hands did exist in the Northern Renaissance but this is a new formula for Italy and will be tremendously influential with artists like Raphael and others another very influential aspect of this painting is a technique that Leonardo employed which is known as Hamato that simply means smoke and what it refers to is that slightly hazy quality that Leonardo introduces to remove the sometimes sharp quality that existed in the early Renaissance paintings or each object looks too isolated it's an atmospheric quality that creates a sense of unity throughout the painting and makes the figure appear to almost emerge out of the darkness so we see that she's seated on a chair in a low jaw open porch way and we see on either side of her what looked like the base of two columns we don't know if the painting was cut down and there were originally full columns on either side of her but we do know that early copies of this paid they do show those columns on either side of the figure there's a lot about this painting that we don't fully understand this was a commissioned and yet Leonardo kept the painting he never delivered it to the man who commissioned it and later in the inaros life when he moved to France he brought the painting with him which is why it's now in the Louvre one question that I think we should address is why is this the most famous image in the world well it reminds me of another very famous image of that's very ambiguous and mysterious and that's the woman with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer from more than a century later perhaps in our culture has some fascination with images of mysterious women I think that's probably an important part of it but then I think Fame grows on itself in 1911 the painting was stolen and it was headlines around the world and that accelerated its Fame and it has become the subject of numerous other paintings by artists as diverse as Marcel Duchamp or Andy Warhol this raises an interesting issue here's a painting that was made for a private home to exist in a domestic interior to celebrate a man's wife warps to celebrate a specific occasion perhaps the birth of the child or the purchasing of a new home but here it is instead in a huge gallery with hundreds of people a painting that exists in millions of multiples around the world it's such an unexpected fate for what Leonardo surely saw as a relatively minor commission you