Looking At Mona Together
Time: 50 minutes

Overview of the Lesson
The primary point of this lesson is to introduce students to a method of art criticism for gathering meaning from the Mona Lisa in an interactive critique. You will help students expand on their individual initial writings by joining in a group discussion, using an inquiry method to develop their interpretive skills.

Lesson Objectives
1. Students will describe, analyze, characterize and interpret Mona Lisa using only visual evidence from the artwork.

Materials and Resources
Consumable Materials:
      Student Joumal Page: Analyzing Mona Lisa
      Student Performance Assessment page: Analyzing Mona Lisa
      Student Reference: How To Look at a Work of Art
      Slide projector and screen (if slide is used)
      Teacher Reference: Sample Critique of Mona Lisa by Meredith L. Holland

Planning and Preparation for the Lesson
1. Display Mona Lisa in full view of all students.
2. If you are planning to use the slide of Mona Lisa, prepare the projector and screen and make sure the slide is clearly focused.
3. Duplicate Student Reference How to Look at a Work of Art (in Master Copies Section) and distribute to each student before the lesson. Write the major headings from the reference on the chalkboard or chart paper.
4. Familiarize yourself with the criticism process and the discussion questions suggested in the How to Look at a Work of Art reference. Review the insightful comments from students you highlighted from the Initial Interpretation journal page to stimulate discussion and motivate students.
5. Read the Sample Critique of Mona Lisa by Meredith Holland (in the Resource Section) for background information and guidance in leading the discussion.
6. Add these suggested words and others to the Unit Word List: art criticism, internal/visual clues,reaction, description, formal analysis, formal characterization,interpretation.

1. Tell students that yesterday they each wrote their initial interpretation of Mona Lisa. Today they will work together to analyze the artwork more completely.

We're going to practice being art critics, again, as we try to solve the puzzle of the Mona Lisa. When art critics are trying to find out what an artwork is all about they have certain questions they ask and strategies they use.

The paper that is in front of you, called How to Look at a Work of art, shows us one way to do art criticism. I'm going to ask you questions that are on the sheet and I'd like you to answer by looking at the visual evidence in the artwork.

Focus on the first five questions which rely on visual evidence. Encourage a free flow of conversation and urge each student to participate in the discussion. Ask students to not only talk about what they see, but to physically point out what they notice in the reproduction. Ask students to justify their ideas with evidence they see in the artwork.

Remember, there are no incorrect answers. Just because you don't see what someone else sees doesn't mean it's not there. This activity is called "interactive art criticism ". It means doing criticism together. The power of doing criticism together is in being able to see more than any one person could see alone.

During the discussion, remember to focus on the major points of How to Look at a Work of Art which you have outlined on the board.

How did this work strike you when you first saw it yesterday?
Is there anyone in here who had never seen it before yesterday?
What impression did you have when you first saw it?

Encourage a number of students to express their first reactions. If you have trouble getting students to talk, be ready to read one or more stimulating comments from the journal pages completed in the first lesson.

Describe subject matter - people, objects, symbols, action setting.
What do you see in the artwork?

Guide students to describe the woman, where she is seated, how she is dressed, her body posture, her physical features and facial expression. They should also recognize that this is a portrait, which they will discover later set the standard for High Renaissance paintings in many ways. The relaxed, three-quarter pose was a decided contrast from the stiff, profile portraits that were the norm at this time.

What is in the background?

Ask students to describe the landscape and geographic characteristics - hills, mountains, water and roads. Speculate on where the setting might be located.

Do you have an idea about the time of this artwork?

Students will obviously assume that it took place a long time ago ( 1503 -1507) and some may even know that it was done during the Italian Renaissance.

Is anything happening in the painting?

Hopefully students will see that although there is no overt action, that Mona's eyes and her mysterious smile indicate internal or psychological action.

What colors, lines, shapes, textures do you see? Do they relate to your first impression?

Students will notice the muted colors, the dark colors of Mona's dress and hair contrasted with the lighter background landscape. Point out the luminous quality of Mona's face and hands. Help students focus on details, such as the repeated lines on the sleeves of her garment, the curving lines of the roads, the oval shape of her face, the circular lines of trees and the jagged triangles of the mountains.

Perhaps the most important line in the image is the subtle curve of her mouth. Ask students if they see another line that is not directly shown - but implied. Call on a student to trace the direction of Mona Lisa's eyes to emphasize how she is looking to the right of the viewer.

How do you think this artwork was made?

Focus on clues that indicate that this is a painting. Students may consider the particular type of paint used - in this case the new oil medium. Help students see that there are no sharp outlines in this work. Later students will find out that Leonardo pioneered stumato or the layering of thin, translucent glazes. He compared this to "smoke" - suggesting that the forms seems to melt and blend together without definite edges.

Formal Analysis: How is the work organized?

What is the most important part of the painting? What is the focal point? Why do you think so?

Help students see that woman's hands and face stand out because they are light and luminous in contrast to her dark clothing and hair. Students may also notice that the composition is triangular. Ask them to trace the triangular shape of the figure. Another important aspect of the work is the use of perspective, with all lines leading to a single vanishing point behind Mona Lisa's head. Ask students to look for the horizon line, which is repeated in the railing behind the figure. The repetition of light draws the viewer's eye around the painting, but always back to the face and hands.

Formal Characterization: the overall impression or expressiveness (the mood of feeling)

How would you describe the mood or feeling of this painting? Why do you think so?

Students may think the work is intriguing, mysterious, haunting, sad, tentative, content or a range of other descriptions. The important thing here is to ask them to state what they see that provides evidence for their opinion. For example, the subtle colors and tones may support a sad or pensive characterization.

Interpretation: what is the meaning?

What is the artwork about? What is the artist trying to communicate?

Ask students to consider everything they have discussed from the visual clues in the work to offer an interpretation. For example, students may focus on the famous smile.

Why is she smiling?

Possible responses: I think she's smiling because she has a secret; I think she's smiling because she's happy; I think she's smiling because she thinks she's better than everyone. These are all projections of meaning based on visual qualities.

Help students expand these assumptions by referring to other qualities in the artwork - her placement and posture, the background, her clothing. For example, the student that thinks Mona Lisa is arrogant can point to the fact that she sits proudly, clothed in a luxurious fabric and is sitting in front of a beautiful landscape that she could own. Or, students may think that her facial expression- the direction of her eyes and the smile, are what creates the effect of intrigue and mystery.

2. Tell students that they have done a good job of discussing several interpretations for Mona Lisa relying only on visual evidence. The next questions on the guide, How to Look at a Work of Art, focus on information that is not in the work of art, but comes from external evidence - historical/cultural context learning about the artist and his life and what was happening at the time. These are the questions they will consider later in the unit to add to their interpretation of Mona Lisa.

Practice and Feedback
1.Give each student a copy of the Student Journal Page, Analyzing Mona Lisa, and ask them to write about the most important things they learned about the artwork . Forms for duplication are in the Master Copies Section.
2. Ask students to share their responses and new ideas about the artwork and record them on the chalkboard or chart paper. Refer to questions raised in the first lesson to see if they have been answered. Ask if there are new questions to consider. Summarize the various ideas about the meaning of the work.

Summary of the Lesson
Tell students that they have made good progress about solving the puzzle of the Mona Lisa by discussing the visual evidence in the work and speculating on its meaning. In the next lesson, they will find out what some experts have said about the work, about the artist and the time during which he lived. This information will also help students arrive at an interpretation.

Informal Learning Assessment
1. Review student journals to see if students have described important aspects of their learning and added new ideas to their interpretation of Mona Lisa. See Student Performance Assessment Section for form to duplicate for this lesson.

Student Performance Assessment

II. Analyzing Mona Lisa (Lesson 2)

The student's journal entry indicates that he/she:
          *1. expressed important information about Mona Lisa based on visual evidence in the                 artwork
          *developed new ideas about the meaning/main idea of Mona Lisa.


1. The student's journal entry indicates that he/she has learned some important information about Mona Lisa and is able to relate it to the meaning of the artwork.
                              Yes ( + 1 point.)
                              No (- 1 point)
                              Did not attempt (reason?) (0 points)

2. Record your observations and general reactions to students' work and group discussion in your Teacher's Anecdotal Record. See Master Copies Section for forms to duplicate for this lesson.

Journal Page
Analyzing Mona Lisa

1. What are the most important things you learned about Mona Lisa from looking at the visual clues in the artwork?
2. What new ideas do you have about the meaning/main idea of Mona Lisa?