Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making A Modern Mona Lisa

(adapted for use George Kelly from

Learner Outcomes:

o S Students will explore and analyze how the human face is proportioned

o Students will be able to perceive how the painting “Mona Lisa”, by Leonardo da Vinci, uses classic facial proportions, and learn historical background of this masterpiece and its creator. We’ll also discuss briefly the history of portraiture in art.

o Students will demonstrate their understanding of facial proportions by creating a portrait

o Students will further explore this topic with a creative writing assignment


12” x 18” white drawing paper

pencils & erasers

oil pastels

Powerpoint presentation: portraits, Leonardo da Vinci & the Mona Lisa; facial proportion diagrams


Introduce portraiture as an art form used throughout history. A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other kind of art form that’s meant to show what someone looks like. People have always felt compelled to represent themselves and each other in art.

(if there is internet access: Portrait Detectives,, is a great interactive site – would be good to do together and would provide about a 5 minute discussion)

Slide 1: These are cave paintings made in Lascaux, France, that are thought to be 16,000 years old. What do you think the creators of these thought about themselves?

Slide 2: This is a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh. What can you tell about him from this picture?

He was somewhat disturbed and painted this as he was recovering, in a mental institution, from an incident where he cut off his ear and sent it to a woman he admired as a present. Weird.

Slide 3: This is a portrait of the royal family of King Charles IV, in Spain, made by the court painter, Goya in 1800. Do you think that Goya respected the King and his wife and children? Can you tell how he felt about them by how he painted them? Was he trying to flatter them?

Slide 4: This is a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Born the illegitimate son of a peasant woman, he was apprenticed by one of the most famous artists in Florence when he was in his early teens. Quickly his talent became apparent, and he’s generally thought to be the most genius human being to have ever lived – an accomplished artist, inventor, scientist and philosopher. He loved to experiment and kept many journals recording what he learned. He wrote with mirror writing, to keep his work secret. Among his inventions – the helicopter and hang glider.

Slide 5: This is the Mona Lisa. Painted in 1503, this work became famous almost instantly. The shadowy background is called sfumato, a word which means “Leonardo’s smoke.” Notice the plain dress, the extremely smooth surface of the canvas (you can’t see any signs of brushstrokes, not even up close), and her beautifully proportioned face. Many people notice her mysterious smile and wonder what it is that she’s thinking. What do you think?

o Turn lights on and discuss facial proportion. Point out that the eyes are in the MIDDLE of the head rather than up on the forehead. Have the students use their hands to measure their own facial proportions and lightly sketch on scratch paper where the hairline, eyes, nose, eyebrows, mouth, ears, etc. fall.

Refer back to the Mona Lisa and have students examine the painting…what kind of proportions did Leonardo use? Does it work?

Hand out the large drawing paper and have students lightly draw an egg-shaped oval, and proceed to make their own reproduction of the Mona Lisa – except how they think she would be dressed/coiffed today.

Add color with oil pastels. Have the students really take their time and visually develop the background, etc.

Writing activity: Write about the woman you’ve just drawn. Do a character portrait with words – describe her life, who she is, why she deserved a portrait, what accounts for her mysterious smile, the background of where she’s posing, etc.

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