Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mona Lisa

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Can you really visit Paris without stopping by the Louvre, without seeing the large glass pyramid, and without snapping a photo of the Mona Lisa? Apparently not. On Sunday, we got lost in the Louvre museum for a good three hours, until our feet ached and complained, and until Madison, Caitlin and I were lost and all separated by several centuries of art (Egyptian to the Greek art). The museum itself was very large and consists of three great halls, filled with numerous pieces of art. To say that I was surprised by the exhibits and the great works of Gericault and Jacques-Louis David would be an understatement. The whole thing was truly overwhelming.

The greatest shock however was the attention directed toward Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, by both tourists and the Louvre itself. Stopping at the information desk, they drew a path to the Mona Lisa on my map. "But I want to see Raft of the Medusa and Gericault," I proclaimed. Then within the Greek sculpture exhibit, I saw taped signs directing me to the Da Vinci painting. No, no, no, not yet. I wanted to proceed chronologically. I did not want to skip several centuries of significant art for one painting.

When I inevitably arrived at the Louvre's crown jewel, there was a spectacle to behold. Cellular phones, iPads, small digital cameras, and professional SLRs were all waving about in the air. The paparazzi had staked out a permanent spot in front of the 77 cm x 53 cm painting. I watched old women push past young children, and one family occupied the front until every family member had a solo portrait with Mona Lisa. It was ridiculous. And yet...I inched my way to the front, I took a terrible photo of the painting with my 30 mm lens (complete with light glare, and from a great distance away), and I also took a photo in front of the piece, being the tourist that I am. Still, the spectacle was ridiculous.

Especially considering how relatively little knowledge people possess about Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Many complained about the small size of the painting, while one of my friends visiting Paris with me simply assumed that the significance of the painting concerned the subject's smile---"it was unusual that he painted her with a smile because painted portraits of that time did not depict smiles" or something along those lines. But the Mona Lisa is so much more.

I wish I had my art history book with me here as I try to recall, but Da Vinci employed various shapes, and colors, and techniques in order to create "the most visited, most written about, most sung about, most parodied work of art in the world." It is about more than just a smile. Da Vinci employed a pyramidal organization for composition, played with light and shadow to create various layers in the painting, the subject sits before an imaginary landscape, Da Vinci painted from an aerial perspective, and Mona Lisa's eyes gaze at you from every angle.

Today, the painting is protected by bulletproof glass. 8 million visitors of the Louvre each year stop by this image. They are "cultured" by witnessing a fine piece of art. But unless you purchase an audio guide from the museum to accompany your visit, or you happen to be an art historian, or carry with you a book or brochure, you do not really understand or grasp what it is that you are looking at. The Mona Lisa is so much more than a smile.