It's All in the Name!
Leonardo da Vinci is, for all practical purposes, a household name. In some form or another, his works have found their way into almost everybody's education. While Leonardo had a large number of lesser-known works, such as his inventions and sketches, his most famous works are extremely well known. In fact, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are two of the best-known paintings in history. Just check out the crowds of people inthe Louvre, surrounding a small painting encased in a huge bullet-proof, climate-controlled glass enclosure. Leonardo da Vinci's name and reputation have been co-opted in quite a few modern uses, some of which might have made the real Leonardo scratch his head in confusion.
Mona Lisa Smile
One recent usage of Leonardo's reputation can be seen in the motion picture Mona Lisa Smile. This feature film from 2003 is about a professor in the 1950s who used some unconventional teaching methods in order to encourage her students to think on their own.
Why did this movie choose to use the Mona Lisa as an analogy? One of the most powerful aspects of Leonardo's painting is the woman's smile; it is mysterious, inviting, and subtle all at the same time. Modern analysts believe that her smile and eyes are best seen when you are using your peripheral vision, which is why many people think that the Mona Lisa appears to follow viewers as they move around the room. Her smile appears to be hiding a secret, and the movie takes this idea and runs with it.
Similar to the subject of the title painting, the main characters in the movie, students at Wellesley College, seem perfectly behaved by all outward appearances. It turns out, however, that not all of them are who they appear to be on the outside. They, like Mona Lisa, convey a calmness that barely conceals the turmoil underneath.
Leonardo's name also has made it onto Broadway! Well, off-Broadway. In 2003, Mary Zimmerman of the Berkeley Repertory Theater put on aproduction called The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, in which she used bits of information about Leonardo's life to form a production based on both his career and personal habits as revealed through his own writings.
Zimmerman used writings from Leonardo's notebooks to show Leonardo da Vinci's incessant curiosity, as seen in his inventions, paintings, sketches, and other designs. She pieced together fragments of his life that are evident in his notebooks, capturing his most poetic moments and dramatic strengths. His life provided plenty of both!