The Mona Lisa, a creation of the Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, is probably the most famous and enigmatic artistic creation of all time. The painting was completed sometime between the years of 1503 and 1519, and currently hangs inside the Louvre in Paris. The painting is a portrait of a very distinguished-looking woman bearing a mysterious half-smile. It continues to baffle scholars and art enthusiasts alike with its ambiguous meaning. Teaching the Mona Lisa to kids is a great opportunity to imbue students with an appreciation for Renaissance art. Take that appreciation one step further and have them create their own version of the Mona Lisa, providing them with the opportunity to enjoy the creative process itself.
Begin by showing the students a reproduction of the original painting. Provide them with some historical background on the Renaissance in Italy. One interesting fact that you can introduce is that unlike today, paintings during the Renaissance were always done on commission, either by a rich patron or the Catholic Church. The terms -- including the style of the painting and colors to be used -- often were negotiated in advance and in painstaking detail. Today's artists have total freedom in determining what kind of art they make. Allow your students to exercise their "freedom of expression" in making their own version of the Mona Lisa.
The true identity of the woman depicted in the Mona Lisa has been a source of speculation for scholars for ages. Kids love a good mystery, and their interest will be whetted by the fact that even today, no one knows for sure who the woman in the painting was. Introduce them to some of the competing theories. Some believe that the woman was Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a famous art patron of the period. Others have contended that the model was da Vinci himself. Even if it was del Giocondo, very little is known about this woman. Have your students think about who the Mona Lisa was. Allow them to present their theories about her identity to the class when they're presenting their projects.
Get your students involved by having them create their own take on the Mona Lisa. Pass out color copies of the famous painting along with pieces of scrap paper, scissors and markers. Encourage them to design modern day clothing and accoutrements, as well as props like headphones and sunglasses, to help them posit what a contemporary Mona Lisa would look like.
After the students have completed the project, allow each one to give a brief presentation on her version of the Mona Lisa. Conclude the lesson with a class discussion on the relevance of the Mona Lisa painting today. This will give the students an appreciation of the lasting power of art, and the continuing relevance of Renaissance artifacts in today’s culture.