Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That Mona Lisa Smile...

La Gioconda
Mona Lisa
1503 - 1506
Leonardo da Vinci

The other day a deranged Russian woman threw a cup at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, but the painting was protected by bullet proof glass, and the woman wasn't able to do any damage. Why would anyone throw a cup at the Mona Lisa? Apparently the woman was frustrated because she had been denied French citizenship. Maybe she felt the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa was mocking her. Here was this woman, Mona Lisa Gioconda, permanently ensconced in the most famous museum in the world, in the most beautiful city in the world, and the Russian woman was not permitted to become a French national. People do strange things.

The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting done by the genius Leonardo da Vinci. I have seen the Mona Lisa, and I was surprised that it was smaller than I had imagined (30.2 × 20.9 in). It was painted on a panel of poplar wood, and it appears quite dark. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the Mona Lisa. I personally do not like the painting. Something about it disturbs me, and I'm not sure what it is. To me, the background looks as if it is sketched it -- sort of as some type of filler, to make the Mona Lisa appear closer to us. And I don't like the artificiality of the background. There is something a bit odd about the winding road leading off into the distance. It disturbs me. But the Mona Lisa's expression interests me. I wonder what she was thinking, and all these centuries later, to me she appears very much alive.

The thing that has always fascinated me about the Mona Lisa is this: If she were alive today, she would not be considered beautiful by today's standards. Plastic surgeons would probably have a field day with her. Her lips would be plumped up with some type of lip augmentation fillers. Her nose would be shortened and artificially turned up at the end. They would probably tattoo some sort of eyebrows on her, and her eyelashes would be extended with artificial extensions. Her hair would probably be highlighted to some copper color not known in the natural world. But then she would no longer be the Mona Lisa, would she? She would be someone else. So, I rather like her just the way she is -- natural. I'm glad her face and her mysterious gaze will live on for many more centuries to come.


Wenderina said...

Loved this post Jo. I have to admit I don't know enough about this piece to understand why it is the most well known portrait in the world. But I agree that our perception of beauty has definitely warped over the years.

lovelyprism said...

She is quite fascinating. I wasn't surprised by her size because you forewarned me! She is much MUCH more impressive in person though isn't she? The photos of the painting never seem to do her justice.

Russell said...

Perhaps the most famous Iowa painting is Grant Wood's American Gothic. That is the one with the man holding a pitch fork and the somber woman. In the background is a small house with a gothic window. (That house is actually a tourist attraction!)

That particular work is also very small. The first thing you notice about it is how small it is. You have seen all these posters of the work and big prints.

In fact, people can always be heard to say "that is so small...!"

But, heh, good things come in small packages, right?! I guess it really is true!

Maureen said...

There were some very interesting images recently of the transition the painting went through, done with x-rays I believe, she once had a lace cap and white dress. I think there is at least one other actual painting around too, different background. You can probably find them on Google.

TC said...

I always thought the background was WRONG too, it does make the painting of the actual person look more polished though, maybe that's what he was after or maybe he just let a student paint the background?
Anyway I'm glad the lady didn't hurt the painting, we've already destroyed too much of what we used to have globally.

Kimberly said...

She is thinking "You had better make me appear shapely but thin or I will simply cut your throat".

Land of shimp said...

The faux background is oddly reminiscent of things like Olan Mills photography, or rather just inexpensive portrait photography. I don't think it would stand out to me as being rather jarring if it wasn't for that association.

I have not seen the Mona Lisa in person, and perhaps if I did, I would feel differently about her. I recognize the painting as an incredible achievement. After all, she looks as if she knows things she'll never tell. She looks as if she knows something about the person viewing her. There's a sense of having a personal interaction with her, and that's obvious even in pictures and reproductions. I can only imagine that is more keenly felt in person.

Yet, she makes me uncomfortable. For all her wise expression, and seeming knowledge, I find the painting oddly oppressive.

She's a bit like studying Shakespeare, quite honestly. I think that most people, particularly liberal arts majors of any kind, feel the need to love Shakespeare. I remember studying [i]Titus Andronicus[/i] and there was a moment where I put aside my incredibly hefty copy of a collection of Shakespeare's plays and said in frustration, "God, this is a [i]task[/i]." Yes, brilliance, but brilliance that was something of chore to delve into!

I think it's possible to recognize true greatness, and the Mona Lisa certainly achieves that, without actually enjoying it.

I find the Mona Lisa to be like that. She looks as if she's in possession of a soul, and as if she's looking right into yours. The painting is incredible, and yet, I have always found her to be uncomfortable to look at; eerie.

I guess appreciation, even admiration doesn't always carry with it actual love.

ivan said...

Russell is so right. Grant Wood was of course, another genius.
And who would have known that the farmer with the pitchfork was acrually the local doctor...All the more fascinating. What an icon!
Reproduced everywhere! Yay for the American Midwest, in the best sense. It produces other geniuses, in writing, Garrison Kieller, for example.

On La Giaconda, well.

The maddened Russian woman was obviously steeped enought in French culture to know there is a tradition of icon smashing and rioting that is almost written into the French Constitution. After all it was the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp who nearly a hundred years ago, went right up to the paintng before it was protected and drew a moustache on the Mona Lisa. He later went on to more daring capers like taking a urinal and exhibiting it as dada art.
Destroy the old forms. That is my Dada, my roccking horse. Mew forms will come...And they did. Surrealism and cubism.
On beauty.
Maybe Duchamp, probably a little gay, may have sensed that old master Leonardo had come too close to the truth. A self-portrait? Certainly more true for Duchamp now that she was rampant with moustache.

Russell said...

Thank you, Ivan, for your comment! Wow! AND you most likely know that the woman in American Gothic is Grant Wood's sister, Nan. (I think that was her name...)

Take care.

Charles Gramlich said...

sounds like they made the right decision denying that woman citizenship. She's not worthy of it.

pranksygang said...

Monalisa fascinates me too... She is a different women and i love her smile ....

Anonymous said...

Land of shimp took the words right out of my mouth. The background does remind one of the phony ones used by Sears and others.
One thing to keep in mind. This wasn't always the famous painting it is today. Perhaps it was just a portrait intended only for the buyer like we have portraits done today. Not all of them are meant to hang in museums. Be that as it may, who can say why one piece of art becomes ultra famous and others don't. It's one of those mysteries of life, I suppose.

PhilipH said...

The smile seems to say 'I know all about you ... oh yes, I know everything, so be careful'.

It's a sly sort of smile, but that is, of course, just my take on it. I wonder if Leonardo ever expected all the different opinions of 'the smile'?

The Bug said...

I agree with Land of Shimp too - it looks like a photog's backdrop.

Not writing more - I feel ok from the surgery, but I have miles of blogs before I sleep - & I'm sure the "fine-ness" is going to wear off in a bit!

Paula Slade said...

I too have seen the Mona Lisa in person and was surprised at how small the actual painting was. I have always found her enigmatic gaze to be haunting.