Modern Day Mona Lisa

Grade Levels: 5 - 8

Mona Lisa has almost become a figurehead for Renaissance art. Yet she was not a duchess or a queen. She was the wife of a banker whose portrait became the most famous ever painted! In immortalizing his model Mona Lisa, the artist Leonardo da Vinci also preserved a part of the world that surrounded her. So look just beyond that secret smile for a glimpse into sixteenth-century Italy.


  • Students will draw a portrait.
  • Students will represent the lives of women in various eras.


  • Illustration board (or posterboard)
  • Oaktag
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor (or poster paint)
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Pencils


  1. Illustration boards (or posterboards) should not be too large, 9" x 12" is more in scale with the original painting of the Mona Lisa.
  2. Oaktag will be the picture's mat, so it will have to exceed your illustration boards by three inches (e.g., 12" x 15").
  3. You may want to precut the mats.
  4. Establish center of oaktag by drawing diagonal lines in pencil from opposite corners, going from lower left to upper right and vice versa, forming a big X.
  5. Place illustration board on the center of the oaktag, using your eye as your guide.
  6. Trace and remove.
  7. Measure 72" inside the outline of the traced rectangle.
  8. Fold in half.
  9. Cut out the inside rectangle.
  10. The mats will remain when you remove the paper from the center.
  11. Ask students, if they were to create a portrait for our era, what could they include in it that would identify the time and the place? Think of some monuments and landmarks of America. Mount Rushmore? The Statue of Liberty? The Liberty Bell? Maybe they can think of some specific sights in your home town or state.
  12. What could help establish a specific period of time in this portrait? Name some current trends and styles.
  13. Distribute materials.
  14. Do a contour pencil outline of Mona Lisa's outside shape.
  15. Regard her placement on the page.
  16. Draw the pose, replacing Renaissance fashion with a snazzy contemporary outfit.
  17. They may try to make their portrait's face look like Mona Lisa's, or they can substitute another face (their own? a friend's?) if they wish.
  18. In creating a modern-day Mona Lisa, consider popular patterns and designs of fabric, clothing styles, eyewear, jewelry, etc. Use the mix of media that best suits their ideas.
  19. The background is a very important part of the picture. Show a part of your country! How is the world different for women now? Represent that in the picture. Don't be afraid to divide paper to include several pictures and images.
  20. When the portrait is finished, take out the oaktag mats. Again, our frame will reflect current styles.
  21. Pick motifs from some of the designs or images used for the Mona Lisa.
  22. They can combine abstract patterns with realistic representations.
  23. Tape the portraits behind the mats when finished. Display the many interpretations of the Mona Lisa in your classroom galleria.

    It's fun to reveal a period of time in the manner described in this activity. Some of your students may enjoy focusing on other decades, such as the 1950s or 1970s. There is much material to choose from in these periods, particularly with our love for nostalgia these days.

Excerpt from Art Smart!.

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