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Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Paintings Essay

Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most well-known paintings in the world. Show anyone from a 60 year old man to a 10 year old girl a picture of the painting and, most likely, they will be able to name the painting as well as the painter. While some say that DaVinci’s painting is the most famous of all created, many of Andy Warhol’s paintings are also easily recognizable. Almost everyone has seen the Campbell’s Soup Can series Warhol painted or his famous Triple Elvis print. This paper will be focusing on his Marilyn Monroe series, which I will be comparing and contrasting to the Mona Lisa. There are many obvious differences between the two paintings, such as the time period, color scheme, background and subject matter. My goal is to also point out some similarities such as their use of line, recreations, fame, and prominence in society.

One of the major contrasts between the two works is the history behind the paintings. Andy Warhol was said to be fascinated with the actress Marilyn Monroe’s supposed suicide in August of 1962. Warhol proved the Proverb, “Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names” to be true, making his Marilyn Monroe series one of his most famous works. Warhol bought a publicity still of Marilyn’s 1953 movie Niagara, cropped it, enlarged the face, and reproduced it on eight different canvases. Each painting was given a different color scheme. These paintings were the first solo exhibition for Warhol. The most famous of the series, Lemon Marilyn, was bought and kept in a private collection until 2007.

While the subject of Warhol’s painting is very well known and easily recognized, the subject of Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa was most likely commoner, and there are many different theories of who the woman could be. Some say the woman is DaVinci himself, in woman form. Others say it could be Lisa Gherardini; the wife of a wealthy businessman in Florence, Italy named Francesco Del Giocondo. DaVinci was commissioned to paint the Mona Lisa in 1503, and worked on it for four years before it was finished. DaVinci kept his painting for quite a while before he sold it to the King of France, King Francois, in 1516. (“Mona Lisa.” Lairweb.com. N.p., n.d. Web.) After the French Revolution, the painting was moved to the Louvre, where it remains today.

The history behind the paintings also point out several more differences. There is only one Mona Lisa, while Warhol created many Marilyn paintings. The time period when the two painters lived was decades apart. DaVinci was alive from 1452-1519, while Warhol was born in 1928 and died in 1987. While Warhol was strictly an artist, DaVinci spent time as a mathematician, engineer, writer, and geologist as well.

The two men’s styles of painting were very different as well. DaVinci painted in the style of chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, and sfumato. Sfumato is created by painting a color that turns slowly from light to dark tones to give off a kind of misty glow or smoky mystery. Andy Warhol was a major part of the Pop art movement. Jennifer Rosenberg of About.com quoted pop art as being, “a new style of art that began in England in the mid-1950s and consisted of realistic renditions of popular, and everyday items.” (Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Andy Warhol.” About.com 20th Century History. About.com, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.) Warhol used silk-screening to create Marilyn Monroe. Warhol is quoted as saying, “In August 62 I started doing silkscreens.

I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect…you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue… I was thrilled with it. When Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face the first Marilyns.” (“Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Prints.” Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Prints. Color Vision and Art, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.) DaVinci’s painting was progressive for the time. The traditional paintings of his time were of a head and shoulders portrait, in a very rigid or posed position.

The Mona Lisa is painted all the way down to her hands, and she seems to be in a very comfortable, relaxed pose. Her pose is very linear, which conveys a sense of “formal and dignified ideas”. (ROEMER, CK. “Looking at Great Art Practice.” Http://www.studiocodex.com. N.p., 2007. Web.) This would be appropriate if this woman is the wife of a wealthy man, which is one of the speculations of the woman’s identity. Andy Warhol’s painting, on the other hand, seems almost regressive. Only Marilyn’s face is shown. She is depicted with a very serious expression, and is very unnaturally posed. This seems to project a sense of excitement or disorder, which represent Marilyn’s life very accurately.

The two subjects of the painting are very different in appearance as well. The Mona Lisa has no makeup on. She is dressed very plainly and does not seem to be wearing any jewelry. Marilyn Monroe has a lot of make-up on and has her hair curled and styled. Marilyn seems to have a haughty or annoyed expression on her face, while Mona Lisa is smiling slightly and seems to be happy and content.

Another major difference between the two paintings is the use of color. The Mona Lisa is depicted in very earthy tones. The tan color of the flesh seems closer to the viewer, while the muted browns, greens, tans, and blues seem to fade into the background. DaVinci used light and dark colors to highlight certain parts of the painting, such as the woman’s face and hands.

The color palette is what would be expected if this was an actual photograph. Andy Warhol’s Marilyn is the complete opposite of the Mona Lisa. None of the colors are natural, except, maybe, the makeup, and can appear shocking to the eye at first glance. All aspects of the painting are bright; eyes, lips, eye shadow, and hair. Warhol painted Marilyn in ten different color combinations with 250 of each color variation. (Henry. “Henry On Pop Art.” ‘Henry On Pop Art’ N.p., 08 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.)

While the actual colors used in the paintings are very different, the way the painters used the colors brings out a similarity in the two. Mona Lisa is dressed very dark and her pale face is framed by dark hair. The light colors used in the background seem to bring the woman to the front of the painting. This was most definitely done on purpose by DaVinci. He wanted the viewer to focus on Mona Lisa. The same can be said of Warhol. He uses a bright contrasting color for his background of Marilyn Monroe. Although the background color almost always matches that of Marilyn’s eye shadow, the background contrasts with the rest of the painting, bringing the face towards the viewer.

The use of line in both paintings is also similar. No brush strokes are visible in either painting, and appear a bit foggy. The Mona Lisa is this way due to the technique, sfumato, discussed earlier. In Marilyn, it is hard to pick out a defined line in her hair, for example. The lines in DaVinci’s paintings are the same, flowing from one to the other. The Mona Lisa is blended so well that each section seems like a part of the next.

The background of the Mona Lisa is a landscape with a river, bridge, trees, grass, and mountains. The view seems to go on forever, and there is no real focal point in the background. The backgrounds purpose in this painting in unknown, some say it is to contrast the peaceful look of the woman with a foreboding background. Others think it could have been as simple as DaVinci practicing with landscapes. Unlike Mona Lisa, the backgrounds of the Marilyn Monroe paintings are a solid color. The background contrasts dramatically with the colors in the actual face. The background pulls the viewer’s eye to Marilyn’s face, instead of something that could be happening in the background.

Symmetry is another example of a way the two paintings are alike. The shape of the Mona Lisa is very symmetrical. The woman is sitting straight and a straight line down the middle of the painting would show equal parts. The woman’s body is a triangular shape, with the tops of her legs and hand forming the base, and her head becoming the point. Her face is very circular, and the smile she displays is an arch of a circle. (Roemer, CK. “Looking at Great Art Practice.” Http://www.studiocodex.com. N.p., 2007. Web.) Warhol gives his Marilyn Monroe paintings a subtle heart shape with the curves created by her hairline. The painter, like DaVinci, uses simple shapes as well, such as the half-moon of her eye shadow, or the slight triangles of her eyebrows, which also shows symmetry.

DaVinci creates a feeling of depth and space in his painting. The fact that the woman is taller than the mountains in the background suggests that she is seated very close to the viewer, while the mountains are in the distance. The detail of the pleats in her skirt, the individual pieces of hair, and transparent veil that covers her head are small details that make the woman seem closer to the viewer. The walking paths and streams of water leading up the painting make the eye move upwards, and form a sense of continuous forest. The viewers understand that the landscape goes on for quite a while. (Roemer, CK. “Looking at Great Art Practice.” Http://www.studiocodex.com. N.p., 2007. Web.) In contrast to DaVinci, Warhol used space by placing Marilyn’s face in the middle of the painting. There is no real use of depth in this painting, because of the plain, contrasting color background. She almost appears to be completely flat against the surface.

The eye is immediately drawn to the face in Marilyn Monroe. As mentioned above, the contrasting background color pulls the face forward, making the viewer notice her first. The same can be said of Mona Lisa, making focal point a similarity of the two. The woman in Mona Lisa is the biggest part of the painting. Her pale face offset by her dark hair and clothes draws the viewer’s eye to her. The position of her hands is right below her face, which also serves as a line to the focal point.

The use of texture is somewhat absent from Warhol’s painting, while the Mona Lisa is full of texture, another difference in the paintings. The folds in the woman’s dress make the painting seem more realistic, while the uneven and sharp edges of the mountains in the background contrast nicely with the smoothness of the woman’s face and hair. The woman’s skin also has a dotted affect which makes it seem more lifelike, instead of Warhol’s Marilyn that seems fake and unrealistic.

The use of value plays a huge role in both paintings. DaVinci uses abrupt changes in value; The pale skin of the woman face and hands against her dark hair and dress. He uses the same type of changes to show the wrinkles on the fabric of her clothing. (ROEMER, CK. “Looking at Great Art Practice.” Http://www.studiocodex.com. N.p., 2007. Web.) Andy Warhol uses value changes in the brightness of Marilyn’s hair against the darker background. The black tones used underneath her hair are darker than the color of her somewhat pale skin.

Another similarity is the massive amounts of recreations or paintings based on the same subject. Many artists has done their own version of the Mona Lisa, making her their nationality, fat, and even making her another person altogether. Many artists have also taken Marilyn Monroe and painted her their own way.

Both paintings still play a huge role in society today. You can buy phone cases, laptop skins, and even clothing with a picture of these paintings. Replicas of both paintings can be seen hanging on walls of homes, restaurants, and art galleries. Mona Lisa and Marilyn Monroe are both easily recognized and correctly identified in today’s society.

A final similarity between the two paintings is the significance they both played in their style of art. Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa is said to have “become the prototype for Renaissance paintings.” (Lorenzzi, Rosella. “Mona Lisa.” Mona Lisa. N.p., 16 Jan. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.) Andy Warhol was affectionately known as the “Pope of Pop”, and his Marilyn Monroe series came to be one of the most well-known and popular works of pop art in his time. The final difference between the two, and most interesting, is that Warhol recreated DaVinci’s Mona Lisa in his own style; putting 30 Mona Lisas in one silk screen. Warhol is quoted as saying “30 is better than 1.” (Rose, Millie. “Postmodernism.” : Andy Warhol. N.p., 08 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.) The Mona Lisa is said to have been a major inspiration to Warhol, and he was honored to be able to have his own spin on this iconic painting. Obviously Warhol’s work did not influence DaVinci because of the time frame.

While the differences far outweigh the similarities, both paintings are brilliant. Warhol was a major influence in the pop art world, and his paintings are still being used in many forms of advertising today. DaVinci is said to have been the ultimate example of what a portrait should be, and without a doubt, he has influenced many of the other famous painters today. Both men, while their styles couldn’t have been anymore different, have two of the most famous names in the art world.

* Esaack, Shelly. “Lemon Marilyn, 1962.” About.com Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. * “Mona Lisa.” Lairweb.com. N.p., n.d. Web.
* Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Andy Warhol.” About.com 20th Century History. About.com, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. * Henry. “Henry On Pop Art.” ‘Henry On Pop Art’ N.p., 08 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. * ROEMER, CK. “Looking at Great Art Practice.” Http://www.studiocodex.com. N.p., 2007. Web. * Lorenzzi, Rosella. “Mona Lisa.” Mona Lisa. N.p., 16 Jan. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. * Rose, Millie. “Postmodernism.” : Andy Warhol. N.p., 08 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.


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