Capturing the Feminine Mystique on Realistic and Abstract Paintings

Mona Lisa’s smile is as enigmatic as the possible inspiration behind one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most celebrated magna opera. On the surface, the painting simply depicts a 16th century Florentine woman sitting serenely before da Vinci as he paints her portrait. For one amateur art historian, however, La Gioconda’s smile has “feminism” written all over it.

Mona Lisa

In his book “The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa,” art historian William Varvel believes the woman’s smile sparked the image of a feminist movement poised to take a more active role in society. Varvel also refers to a “New Jerusalem,” a biblical term for the phrase “heaven on earth” where an equal society exists.

“More than 500 years after after Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, U.S. academic William Varvel has argued that the artist’s muse was a 16th-century activist who favoured a greater role for women in the Catholic Church.


In a newly published book, ‘The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa’, the academic wrote: ‘La Gioconda could be a grand statement for women’s rights.’”

Regardless of such speculations, it cannot be denied that the feminine as an artistic subject is as old civilization itself. Many ancient temples, for example, had larger-than-life statues and murals of powerful female deities. Over the course of history, images of the feminine have been filtered through the lens of prevailing ideologies and societal forces, ultimately making their way to various art forms such as exquisite oil paintings on canvas of enduring beauty that remain the subject of scholarly fascination.

The Mona Lisa’s gaze and smile, for instance, is one such subject that is open to interpretation. In fact, a study by Spanish scientists opens up the possibility that she may, in fact, not be smiling at all precisely because da Vinci intended for her to have such a dynamic and haunting expression.

Beyond these observations, however, it is clear that many works of art centered on the female form and experience remain a wellspring of introspection and dynamism. A spiritual and visionary artist such as Catherine Andrews, in particular, celebrates the feminine mystique in all its beauty and glory. Vibrant abstract paintings of archetypal goddesses or familiar scenes from Christianity rendered in vivid detail, for instance, never fail to elicit a closer look and inspire one to ascend to a higher state of consciousness.

(Source: Mona Lisa was a feminist who believed women should be allowed to become priests, says historian who claims he’s solved the da Vinci masterpiece mystery, Daily Mail, March 10, 2014)