Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Mona Lisa on Repeat!

Salvador Dali, Self Portrait as Mona Lisa,1964
Jean Michel Basquiat, Mona Lisa, 1983
Yasumasa Morimura Mona Lisa in the Third Place, 1998
Keith Haring, Apocalipse 7, 1988
Kazimir Malevich, Composition with Mona Lisa, 1914
Jasper Johns, Figure 7, 1968
William T. Wiley, Mona Lisa Wiped Out, 1967
Fernando Botero, Mona Lisa Age Twelve, 1959
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. Readymade, 1919
Andy Warhol, Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963
Banksy, Mona Lisa Mujahedin

For more tributes to the Mona Lisa, visit the Lunatica Desnuda blog.  

You may wonder why the Mona Lisa has been the subject of more reactions, scandalous ripoffs and fuel for commercialization than pretty much any other artwork in history. Surely, after such relentless exposure as well as inundated recognition, the Mona should be relegated to the realm of kitschy cliches that aren't even safe for the second-hand chewing gum of pop culture. As a child, I was once informed that the Mona Lisa was famous because if you looked at her for long enough, she would go squint. I believed this explanation, and felt quite satisfied that she had magical powers. I would stare at postcards and any other images I found of the grinning sorceress for great lengths of time, eagerly awaiting her far-flung eyeball on the right to gravitate towards its twin.

Besides having the ability to squint and smile at you simultaneously, the Mona Lisa is said to have revolutionized painting. Her pose itself broke with tradition; previously, portraits were depicted in full length. Leonardo introduced the waist-up, hands-folded-on-lap approach, which allowed for a much more intimate treatment. The pose was imitated immediately and became fashionable for portraiture by painters such as Raphael. The background is painted in a gradation of lights and colors, becoming blurry in the distance, instead of the traditional approach in which foreground and background are equally distinct. The overall composition has an other-worldly quality to it, accentuated by the close-up figure and the far away imaginary landscape behind her which is split unnaturally on either side of her head.

Mona herself is rendered with extraordinary vividness; one has a sense of viewing the living woman. (The effortless realism of photography may have diminished our capacity to appreciate this). Leonardo displayed in this work a mastery of technique that was unknown at the time, profoundly impressed his contemporaries, and has rarely been matched since. An account from 1550 mentions, "A smile so pleasing that it seems divine rather than human." Mona's fame also catapulted in 1911, when the painting was stolen from the Louvre. 

The Straight Dope

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