Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Not Magic

Leonardo da Vinci was a great painter. In fact he was great at a lot of things. He was probably a genius.

But he was not a magician. Even on NPR, when the topic is the Mona Lisa, some host will casually say how her eyes follow you no matter where you stand in the room. Can we all get over this?

When you paint someone on a two-dimensional surface and you paint their eyes pointing toward the viewer, the "eye-following" effect is created. Go ahead and try it out: Draw a smiley face on a piece of paper and look at it from the side. Or look at one of your family portrait photographs from JCPenny. If you're looking at the camera when the photo was taken, your eyes in the photograph will "follow" a viewer around the room.

Some paintings of mine even have this effect. And I'm not a genius. Or a magician.


  1. Another fun fact about this painting is that it is that time has not been kind to it. If we had the opportunity to see this painting in its original glory, it would probably be unrecognizable. Here's one version of a what total restoration might look like.

  2. Interesting! I guess I always assumed (like everyone else) that it was better preserved. It's similar to the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Once it was completed, people couldn't believe how colorful it was.