Leonardo DaVinci was a true Renaissance Man, excelling in fields like anatomy, engineering, mathematics, science as well as art.
However, one of the principal reasons the Mona Lisa is so famous is because of DaVinci’s use of Mathematical Proportionality.
So how is the Golden Ratio used in the Mona Lisa? The Golden Ratio is used in the Mona Lisa to portray Leonardo DaVinci’s philosophy of interdisciplinary art through human faces. The Golden Ratio in the Mona Lisa captures the divine simplicity and harmony of the Holy Trinity. The Mona Lisa is representative of the dodecahedron, a twelve-sided polyhedron that represents perfect mathematical proportions.
Behind the mesmerizing eyebrows and gaze of the Mona Lisa, one of his most famous portraits of all time, this Florentine man employed axiomatic secrets inherited from the mathematical discoveries of the ancients of antiquity like Euclid.
In one of DaVinci’s illustrated volumes, the Divina Proportione, he thoroughly explores the splendour of the Golden Ratio alongside the Mathematician Luca Pacioli. One could speculate that this fixation with the proportion of 1.618 would inevitably find itself embedded in some of DaVinci’s most famous works.
But what is the Golden Ratio and how is it used in the Mona Lisa? Simply put, the Golden Ratio or Phi (Φ) is a geometric proportion in the measurement of length that is pleasing to the human eye. It is often used in art, architecture, music and even in nature.
Unravelling the Mathematical Mystery Behind DaVinci’s work
This last part about the proportions of a dodecahedron shows that DaVinci was well acquainted with the mathematical work of Plato who claimed in the Socratic Dialogue known as Timaeus that this was the solid “which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven.”
Indeed, the mystery behind this painting is what makes it the rarest and expensive works of art in contemporary times. If you’re wondering just how much the Mona Lisa is worth, you’ll be surprised to know that from a monetary perspective, it has no equal.
Part of this mystery and artistic value of this painting can be found in the Mona Lisa’s eyes and face can be attributed to this attention to mathematical precision. While DaVinci has never explicitly claimed in his diaries and journals that he used Φ in his sfumato painting of the Mona Lisa, many art historians have retrospectively made that claim within academic circles.
The Golden Ratio in the Renaissance
For DaVinci, the pursuit of humanistic arts and philosophy was largely anchored in this mysterious connection to the divine. His goal in using the Golden Ratio was perhaps to unveil the otherwise ineffable sacred nature of geometry. Moreover, it was entirely necessary for creating a realistic art style that did not stray too far from Nature. The real Mona Lisa was rather happy with the result and DaVinci was well compensated for his work.
This was an important aspect of his diagram drawing called the Vitruvian Man, named after the famous Roman engineer and mathematician Vitruvius. Leonardo had gotten so lost in the geometry used to carve reality and this outlook on the world can be seen in the subtext of nearly all his published writings and creative pursuits.
Shapes, ratios, proportions, angles, dimensions and perspectives were the key disciplines that he had to master to reflect and capture that harmony that the human mind conceived of in all of its ceaseless activities. This is what is meant when DaVinci claims to be attempting to represent the divine.
Symbolism and Origin of the Golden Ratio in the Renaissance
Another famous painting that represented this idealistic ideology and obsession with the Golden Ratio was the School of Athens where DaVinci’s disciple, Raphael, painted many of their shared personal heroes: Plato, Socrates, Euclid, Aristotle and of course Timaeus. DaVinci in this painting is represented as none other than Plato himself, the original author of the Theory of Forms that would be so influential in the Renaissance.
Symbolically, this endeavour to create a projection of veritable depth stemmed from a new paradigm of measurement and engineered precision to reveal the innate but hidden beauty in the world. The Theory of Forms was the foundational block from which DaVinci was able to find within abstract geometry, the sacred science of capturing human figures in the foreground of Nature that humanism had become in the Renaissance.
DaVinci was very much intrigued by the awesome conception of infinity, the fractal self-similarity of Nature. He was certainly avant-garde in discovering that the seeming complexity of our observed universe could be understood in much simpler building blocks.
These fundamental measurements and units could then be projected upwards and used representationally to not simply capture a beautiful portrait like the Mona Lisa, but engineer life itself. In other words, DaVinci’s methodology was an understated precursor to contemporary scientific and philosophical principles today.
If we look at the Mona Lisa’s clothing, we can see how much attention and mathematical rigour went into the painting technique of this Renaissance Master. The mathematical aspects of art are intrinsic to its beauty and the mesmerizing wonderment that it often leaves us in. The more you look at the painting, the more the details emerge, leading us to the incontrovertible conclusion that Leonardo often used a “Math first” approach to his aesthetic style. Of course, this meant that his pieces often took quite some time to produce.
Controversy and Conclusion
While DaVinci never expressed this idea verbatim, an analysis of how the Golden Ratio is Used in the Mona Lisa placed within the broader historical context and scope of his other works leaves us with little doubt that this was indeed the case. While a historian must always look at the primary sources, we might extrapolate DaVinci’s intimate friendship with Luca Pacioli in their collaboration of the Divina Proportione to be a testament to their deeply shared fascination with the Golden Ratio.
The real question that remains unanswered is whether these mathematics that we encounter in our daily lives are already naturally present or merely an arbitrary projection of our rationality onto the world. In other words, are mathematics real or invented? Are they integral to the Universe or an irrational attempt to constrain its chaos within our artistic orders?