Offending Mona Lisa

mona-lisa-short-story-james-golding-da-vinci
Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

What was all the fuss about? As she sat in front of the artist, she wondered why her husband wanted her portrait painted. To have another man look at her with such intensity and scrutiny for long periods of time filled her with embarrassment, forcing her to resist the urge to turn away, to scratch her nose, to blink her dry eyes, anything to avoid his glaring blue eyes. The woes of being a woman, she thought.

Nearing the end of the first sitting, for but a single moment, the sun reversed its path in the heavens and then continued its normal routine. At the time, the artist was focused on his palette and when his gaze returned to the subject, her face was pale and tears flowed down her cheeks. She was looking past the artist’s right shoulder; her eyes gazed somewhere distant, somewhere unseen.

“Is there something wrong?” the artist inquired.

Her response was that of alarm, as though awakened from a dream, and in a flash, she fled from the chair and ran out the door. He turned too late and caught sight of her shawl falling down her shoulders.

On the second day, she arrived early and gave a heartfelt excuse for her behavior. She then sat in the same pose as the previous day. Her face was blank and her body unmoving. After two hours, her eyes glistened, and with difficulty, she swallowed her sadness.

The artist put down his brush and approached the woman. Her breathing was shallow and heavy.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Am I offending you?” he asked.

“No.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks. “All is well. Please continue.”

The artist gave a nod and returned to his easel. Painting continued, and that day’s session ended with the subject still seated in her chair.  

At the third sitting, an hour passed, and the artist stole a closer look at the woman’s face. The corners of her lips were curved upward, ever so subtly. Her eyes came alive; once again they gazed beyond his right shoulder. The artist turned to see what she was looking at but all he saw was an open window.

He asked her, “Signora, what are you looking at?”

She blinked and glanced at the artist.

“My mother,” she answered.

“Your mother?”

“Yes. She is standing outside. She has visited each day that you have been painting me.”

The artist walked over to the window.

“I don’t see anyone.” He turned and faced her, blocking the view out of the window.

She smiled. “I am blessed to see her. My mother died many years ago.”

As Da Vinci stared at Lisa’s face, he saw the duality of suffering and joy as if it were painted by a divine brush. He never forgot that smile.

Copyright © James Golding 2019