Chapter 4. Beauty

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517

Mona Lisa

La Gioconda, La Joconde, the happy one, is not the Virgin Mary, but a human being with her own thoughts that she doesn’t need to share. Leonardo, they say, painted this on commission to celebrate the birth of Lisa del Giocondo’s second son, though it wasn’t found hanging on their villa wall. Leonardo might have painted another portrait of the same person, but that portrait was flanked by columns.

A Woman Bathing in a Stream, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c. 1654

A Woman Bathing in a Stream

This woman isn’t a mythological figure and doesn’t enact a Biblical story. She was Hendrickje Stoffels Rembrandt’s partner and mistress. She looks down at the water smiling as she lifts the hem of her nightgown. Her heavy robes are in a pile in the shadows behind her.

Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, by Claude Monet, 1875

Woman with a Parasol

A breeze lifts her veil and dappled clouds shine behind her in a pastel sky. Her full dress billows; tall grass and flowers toss. Below the rise her son approaches. Sunlight shadows grass blue, her dress lavender and aqua. The underside of her parasol is green.

Delta Farms, by Wayne Thiebaud, 1996

Delta Farms

Wayne Thiebaud’s painting of delta waters flowing next to fields of yellow, purple, orange, and aqua as seen from an airplane gives it away. It is never about steep streets, or buildings, pastries, cosmetics, candy, or toys, but about heavy pigments in complementary blocks of light.