After years of pondering the question “Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?” I decide to make up my own answers. Read all the way to the end to get to the juicy bits.
I remember the gravity of the disappointment that I felt the first time I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris. I was about eight. I was so excited walking into the museum. Expected to have an earth shattering transformation upon gazing at the most brilliant work of art ever produced. What I saw instead what a dark grimy painting. Cracked. I was surprised with how small it is. I was expecting a huge imposing figure looking down on me. It sits behind a large glass case and so you can’t even get that close and personal with the painting as you might with other paintings in the same museum. Finally, it is surrounded with a huge crowd of people at all times. Everybody frantically attempting to take a picture. I had to elbow through the crowd to get close to the glass casing just to get a brief glimpse. In truth, you can never really truly view the Mona Lisa, unless you find a way to arrange a private viewing.
The let down of that day, colored how I viewed art for many years afterwards. It was a different painting altogether that gave me the earth shattering transformative life experience, but that is a whole other story.
And then, a few years ago there was a CBC Radio program on the subject. I listened to the hour long program with interest. I invite you to listen to the one hour program which include interviews with a variety of experts, historians and artsy people. Here is a summary of what I gleaned on the question: “Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?”
- The painting is a master piece. Even the contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci considered it as such. The technical mastery is evident to anybody who understands art from that period.
- In the context of the time period it was produced, the painting contains many unusual elements that distinguish it from other paintings. For example, the fact that the subject is looking directly at the audience. Considered rude at the time. Women were expected to avert their gaze. Mona Lisa is surrounded by nature instead of her belongings that would typically denote her status.
- That enigmatic smile. You can’t help but wonder what is she smiling about? There have been many theories on that regard.
- The Mona Lisa is a work of art that has the rare quality of being imbued with life. People who look at it feel as if the painting is looking back at them.
- At a certain point the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre museum. This fueled a frenzy of speculation on who stole it and why in the press at the time. This hype led to the increase in the public’s awareness of the painting. The same way Kanye West says or does something ridiculous or outrageous right before the release of one of his albums to increase sales, the Mona Lisa managed to do the same.
I was contemplating “Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?” while launching my novel Spoonful Chronicles (A novel with recipes). To help me with my thinking process, I drew my own fan art of the painting using pictures I took of things in my pantry and fridge. Coffee beans, crackers, tomato, parsley, radicio vegetable and oranges. Then I imagined that Mona Lisa read Spoonful Chronicles and it made her smile. Not as in ha ha you crack me up type of smile, but more as in “I get this book” type of smile. And there you have it. The secret behind the enigmatic smile is revealed. If you don’t know the answer to something, simply make up one that appeals to you.
As it happens I am going through a happy content phase in my life. Frequently, I have a subtle smile on my face. I too have a secret. A happy one. I think I get Mona Lisa. I get that smile. It’s the smile of somebody who knows what she wants and where she is going. She is certain 100% that she will get there sooner or later. No need for stress or striving. She will let things come to her in their own accord. She is self contained. Self possessed.
What about you? Why is the Mona Lisa so famous? Do you have an interesting answer or a unique theory. Would love to hear from you.