Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The Mona Lisa smile

Mona Lisa or La Joconde as she is know here in France has the curators of Louvre worried, although they did say they didn’t want to minimise or exaggerate « ni minimiser ni dramatiser », their worries about what is possibly the most famous painting in the world. The poplar wood panel on which Mona Lisa is painted is more ‘warped than previously’. The museum has launched a study. Fortunately (for tourists) the painting will remain in view throughout the period. Leonardo Da Vinci painted it sometime between 1503 and 1506 and it is said to be the portrait of the wife of a Florentine gentleman Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanoli del Giocondo and therefore, in France, she is known as La Joconde.

The Louvre is an enormous museum with three floors and 4 wings and it is very easy to get lost and should some one really set out to see it properly, it would take a week, or maybe a fortnight or even longer. And yet, we all know what the big draw is. La Joconde. Past the entrance through the crystal pyramid and beyond the ticket counter, there are, at regular intervals, prints of Mona Lisa with a red arrow pointing the way to the where she is, in a large room, with 2 and a half walls to herself. I guess the authorities have grown tired of asking people not to film or photograph her. There are officials present who try to dissuade people from taking photos but are totally ineffective since the minute they turn their attention towards someone, some one takes the opportunity of this diversion to quickly take a snap! Infact, the hall through which one has to go through to reach the Mona Lisa, is split into two by a thick rope: One side for entering the room and the other for exiting. This is a pity because the hall contains some wonderful paintings including Da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks. But the huge line of people will impatiently shove you forward if you linger in front of the photos. And Mona Lisa herself is surrounded by people at all times 10 deep if not more. So more often than not, one ends up with a photo of a several heads all with cameras and a dark brownish picture! The painting has taken on a brownish cast due to the accumulation of dust and dirt and chemical changes to the varnish covering its surface. And then it is covered by a thick piece of glass for protection against a million flashes. It seems that the painting was originally larger and two coloumns one on the left and on the right have been cut away and so we don’t see Mona Lisa sitting on a terrace. The painting was damaged by acid in 1956 and took several years to restore. Louvre has so far resisted pressure to restore the painting to its original colours.

Da Vinci came to France at the invitation of Fracois 1er, spent his last days here. He sold the painting to him where it toured the chateaus of Versailles, Fontainebleau and for a time, hung in Napoleon’s bedroom and finally came to Louvre. It was stolen on August 21, 1911 by an Italian painter Vincenzo Peruggia, who wanted to return it to the country of origin. But the picture was found in Italy about two years later. Earlier, in the 60’s and 70’s, it was taken to New York, Tokyo and Moscow, but now any journey has been ruled out!

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