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The unexpected way Leonardo learned to paint Mona Lisa and Jesus


Public Domain

Zelda Caldwell - published on 11/18/17

The research he did for his famous enigmatic smiles had a touch of the macabre.

With news of the record-breaking $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Jesus, “Salvator Mundi,” one could be excused for asking, “How could a painting be worth that much?”

For Walter Isaacson, author of the book Leonardo da Vinci, the great master’s reputation as a genius is justified, in part, by his ability to connect science and art.

Writing in the Washington Post, Isaacson explains that Leonardo was interested in everything about creation. Rather than simply paint what he saw, he studied anatomy, geology, math, engineering, and architecture, among other disciplines.

For the famous Mona Lisa smile, the same smile found in Leonardo’s portrait of Jesus in “Salvator Mundi,” the artist learned about anatomy the same way a medical student does – by studying cadavers.

Leonardo spent his nights in the morgue of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, “peeling the flesh off the faces of cadavers and drawing the muscles and nerves underneath,” Isaacson writes.

By learning how each nerve and muscle affects the movement of a smile, Leonardo was able to perfect that enigmatic, understated hint of a smile seen in his three famous portraits, Mona Lisa, Jesus and St. John the Baptist.


Read more:
Leonardo’s painting of Jesus sells for a record $450 million


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