Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (“La Gioconda”, c. 1503-05, Louvre) is arguably the most famous visual representation of a threshold guardian archetype in the history of the Western art. Incidentally, Elisabeth (Lisa), means “God is my vow”, which could also be interpreted as “consecrated to God”. Spiritually enlightened human being is belongs to God, is the house of God, and God inside the house is protected from any undue intrusion. That, precisely, is the job of the threshold guardian.
Leonardo positions his model’s figure extremely close to the spectator, blocking the access to the mysterious landscape behind. This external landscape serves as the metaphor for the internal, spiritual world of the Guardian (“Alles Vergangliche ist nur ein Gleichnis” “Everything transient is but a comparison”, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Landscape becomes the soulscape. The long road, winding through the dark forest between the misty lakes and menacing cliffs is Mona Lisa’s own spiritual path. This pilgrimage could probably be shared with a true ally, the one who would reject ego for the sake of friendship – but meeting such an ally would constitute an exception from the law of social obligation that controls motivations of the majority, satisfied with their ordinary living in the ordinary world. Chances are, Mona Lisa would have to undertake her journey alone. A pseudo-ally, someone who would create an illusion of contact, only to turn traitor when already on the path, should not be granted the entry into the special world.
Mona Lisa is calm and relaxed, radiating confidence and strength. Her arms are folded in guarded hermetic gesture. Her gaze is inquisitive and cool. Her lips are curled in the famous impenetrable smile, similar to smiles of Greek korai: young female immortals who served as attendants to gods and whose statues guarded the gates of ancient temples. This smile is inviting and forbidding, almost threatening; Mona Lisa dares the viewer to approach but be aware of the risk. The body of the Guardian is placed in three quarters, like a half-open door, a door that would open completely for a single unique human being who would prove worthy of the Journey; a door that will slam shut on anyone else. Mona Lisa’s special world is protected against the intrusion by her serenity and silence.
Updated on April 16 2011, 9:20 PM, New York