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Miscellaneous Mona Mania
January 30, 2003 7:37 AM   Subscribe

The lady with the mystic smile - over the years, she's been stolen, lampooned, revered in song (mp3 file) and the subject of mystery and mania for many. Her visage has been been the inspiration for socks, cookie jars, bathtub toys and lots of kitsch and pop art. What's the secret to the world's long standing love affair with this lady?
posted by madamjujujive (32 comments total)

 
Maybe I'm just biased because I live in Paris and can't take a walk in Le Louvre's neighborhood without witnessing heaps of t-shirts, mugs and everything representing that woman, sold at the cheapest prices to souvenirs-anxious tourists (you get the picture), but I don't see what's so great about this painting.
And also the fact that you simply can't get close to it inside Le Louvre without having your view clouded by said tourists.

That, or it's just her great teethy smile in "Hudson Hawk" =)
posted by XiBe at 7:55 AM on January 30, 2003


Get Started Start A Fire - Graham Parker

The Mona Lisa's sister doesn't smile
She tried to pose but only for a while
Leonardo sent her home
Since then she has lived alone
With her few belongings and a copy
Of a painting of herself unhappy
She is going to burn it when she's ready
posted by lilboo at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2003


XIBe...that's how I feel about the area around Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
posted by oh posey at 8:24 AM on January 30, 2003


The lady with the mystic smile

*siiigh* I thought you were talking about Phyllis Diller.
posted by Shane at 8:25 AM on January 30, 2003


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the fascination with the painting is the context. I remember reading somewhere that this one of first widely seen paintings that appeared 3-dimensional, like a picture. And when it was originally shown it really freaked people out. Does anyone know if that is correct?
posted by thekorruptor at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2003


I remember visiting the Louvre back in '99, and the Mona Lisa was stuck in a box, manned by a security guard who would turn off its light whenever some ignorant tourist started snapping flash photos. It was completely mobbed, and you could barely see it.

Meanwhile, next to it was Veronese's Wedding at Cana, which is not only enormous (over 20'x30'), but was recently beautifully restored and truly stunning. Shame.
posted by mkultra at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2003


good god, i'm the quote queen of mefi today.

carrying on:
the poster children visit the louvre in 1999. quoth rose marshack: "The picture next to the Mona Lisa is this guy looking off to his right, towards the Mona Lisa, and he looks really pissed off. It's hilarious because there are never any people swarming in front of him, so he looks disgusted and sad that no one pays attention to him. "

(as a side note: could y'all remember to mention if there's lots of flash in a link? the first link scared the bejeesus out of my poor computer at work...)
posted by pxe2000 at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2003


Maybe I'm just biased because I live in Paris and can't take a walk in Le Louvre's neighborhood

Xibe - I'm visiting Paris for the first time in two weeks. Any quirky, out of the way places you recommend.

I'm very interested in trying to find some used record storeds (vinyl and/or CD), used book stores, and even thrift stores. Any ideas? Thanks.
posted by trigfunctions at 9:53 AM on January 30, 2003


And also the fact that you simply can't get close to it inside Le Louvre without having your view clouded by said tourists.

Why is it, you hear one negative comment after another once a person has viewed it in person, but not before?

I may have answered my question on this note, these comments came from people whom seemed to not appreciate the arts either.

Because of that, I never went to see it when I had a chance as I didn't want my memory of it clouded.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:12 AM on January 30, 2003


This is great stuff. Thanks.
posted by plep at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2003


Sure is a good thing that Leo is dead and buried, and that his heirs never tried to protect the copyright on the original work. But as XiBe pointed out, if they hadn't we might not be so inundated with kitch.

/me ducks.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2003


To add to comments made here, my experience in viewing it was quite negative also. I didn't go out of my way to see it, but came upon it in my wanderings - there were hordes of people just making a beeline for it from several galleries away, huge throngs. Between the crowds and the cordons, you couldn't get close to it. I just passed on by - there's centuries and centuries of breathtaking art, much of it quite ignored.

trigfunctions, these don't classify as quirky, but I would say go to the Musee d'Orsay - a must! I also loved seeing the tapestries in the Cluny, the Picasso Museum, and the wonderful Musee de l'Homme.

pxe2000 - you're right! I should have labeled the flash file & usually do - just spaced out on it - sorry!

posted by madamjujujive at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2003


Hidden Face of the Mona Lisa?

Maybe I'm missing something...
posted by gottabefunky at 11:13 AM on January 30, 2003


I really enjoyed this post. Thanks, madamjujujive. For another Mona Lisa theory, check out the Profile Theory by Dr. Mark Andrew Lawrence DDS, MCLD with the following odd note: "Mona Lisa/Leonardo da Vinci Profile Theory discovered December 10, 1998 and released to the public on September 26, 2000." I wonder if there was a press conference. On preview: I thought the same thing gottabefunky. Whatever hidden face might be there, it seems to be caused by the flash.
posted by snez at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2003


To get excessively po-mo -- when you go to the Louvre, you're not really seeing the Mona Lisa, you're seeing the idea of the Mona Lisa. As others point you, you're seeing a painting that's behind thick, smudged, bulletproof glass, through flashbulbs and a forest of umbrellas and Japanese tour-guide flags. So what's the appeal? Just because it's famous?

I read somewhere that one of the keys to the Mona Lisa's smile is that you can't actually see the corners of her mouth. Leonardo used the sfumato technique to blur them, so you can never see exactly where her mouth begins. It's a nice picture. I like his Saint Jerome better. (Can't wait to go to the Met and see their new exhibition of drawings.)

Baroque and complicated
Her lovers never stay
Looks like Mona Lisa
Is having a bad day...


(oh and trigfunctions, I'd recommend the Musee Marmottan if you like Monet, the Sainte-Chapelle for the best Gothic stained glass you'll ever see, and the Monument de la Deportation (Holocaust memorial) at one end of the Ile de la Cite. The other end of the Ile de la Cite is the teeny Square du Vert Galant (access it behind the Henri IV statue on the Pont Neuf) and is a magical picnic spot. And sorry, I don't really know from quirky in Paris. I do also like the buses with the open back platforms -- I think a good one is the #29.)
posted by Vidiot at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2003


one night I'm going to sneak into the Louvre and, with my intimate knowledge of anti-surveillance and alarm-not-triggering techniques replace the Mona Lisa with Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl.

In the 50's, every single household in the UK had a gaudily framed print of either this, or one of a series of cheap knock offs. For my money, she's far more mysterious than old Mona.

Check out tretchikoff.co.uk for more exotic mysteries.
posted by nylon at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2003



Mona's eyes follow you wherever you go,
and when you turn your back
you can be sure
she's sticking her tongue out at you...
posted by Shane at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2003


What's the secret to the world's long standing love affair with this lady?

"It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. "
(from Walter Pater's description of the Mona Lisa in "The Renaissance")
Awesome post, madam.
posted by 111 at 12:08 PM on January 30, 2003


To get excessively po-mo -- when you go to the Louvre, you're not really seeing the Mona Lisa, you're seeing the idea of the Mona Lisa. As others point you, you're seeing a painting that's behind thick, smudged, bulletproof glass, through flashbulbs and a forest of umbrellas and Japanese tour-guide flags. So what's the appeal? Just because it's famous?

I'll tell you what I was disappointed by when I saw the Mona Lisa, it was the absence of this titanic mob scene that's part of the folklore surrounding the painting. There were maybe twelve or thirteen people, perhaps getting up to twenty at one point. And noooo cameras! I got a pretty good look. Maybe I was lucky.

I was more impressed with one of the other Leonardos in the room, but I'm contrarian like that. (I can't find a link to this other painting and I don't recall the title. Sorry.)
posted by furiousthought at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2003


I went to the Louvre with the mother. We pondered Mona for a few seconds, before she threw up her hands and said "I don't get it". She did the same thing to the Venus. I was at a loss to disagree with her. At least for those of us without lasting passions for painting, I think Vidiot is absolutely right: Seeing the Mona Lisa (the verb) was much more impressive than the Mona Lisa (the subject) itself.

trig: I'd second madam and Vidiot, especially the Cluny and Saint-Chapelle. Also, the Musée Rodin is wonderful if he's your pleasure.
posted by apostasy at 12:51 PM on January 30, 2003


oh yes, the Musee Rodin is fantastic. It's got a few works by van Gogh and Camille Claudel as well, and the building is neat. Go to the rue Cler just around the corner and peruse the fruit/veg market.

furiousthought: I was more impressed with one of the other Leonardos in the room, but I'm contrarian like that. (I can't find a link to this other painting and I don't recall the title. Sorry.)

Would that be the Virgin of the Rocks? Stunning painting.
posted by Vidiot at 2:49 PM on January 30, 2003


damn, I never got to the Musee Rodin...guess I will just have to go back! ...Vidiot, I went to the bird and flower markets on ile de la Cite, but not the one on rue Cler - trig, here's a list of the various markets.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2003


Yeah, I know.. people always talk about the Mona Lisa like it's such a big thing, but if you ask me, it could use a few more vultures.

[if explanation is necessary, scroll down on this page]
posted by Hildago at 10:50 PM on January 30, 2003


It's a great portrait, but also there is genuine mystery about it, at least so it seemed to me, when I saw it. The extent of La Giaconda's celebrity is hard to explain, but part of it must be due to the way the picture raises questions in ones mind: what is she thinking? who is she anyway? and what did he mean by painting her like that? I was lucky in that there was not much of a crowd on the day I visited... now the Sistine chapel ceiling on the other hand, there is a potentially valuable aesthetic experience forever ruined for me by association with a seething mass of tourists.
posted by misteraitch at 11:36 PM on January 30, 2003


The Salvador Dali museum in Paris isn't bad, either. It's located near the Sacre Cour, and has a couple Amorphous designs in it. Pretty nifty.

The Musée d'Orsay is still my favorite, though.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:42 AM on January 31, 2003


Madam: What? No Mona Lisa Vibrator ™ ?

trig: I've noted a couple of used disc shops in the north. One in the 9th, maybe on the rue de Douai or rue Chaptal. There's another on the rue des Abbesses (18th). I can't say anything about them except that the one in the 9th specializes in the blues. Check the Timeout guide to Paris. It might help.

One of my favorite off-the-path museums (although still crowded with French school children) is the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle. The grand gallery of evolution is spectacular but also incredible is the gallery of comparative anatomy. After a visit, you can have a mint tea and pastries at the Paris mosque.

I think your attitude about visiting Paris will help more than anything, yielding a set of delights that is your unique trip to Paris.


Salut XiBe!
posted by Dick Paris at 2:19 AM on January 31, 2003


I've never entirely got the Mona Lisa either. Evidently I need someone to explain the historic context of it and all that, as just looking at it by myself hasn't done much for me. Then again, for a lot of visual art I find I need someone to explain what's so great about it to me...
posted by H.B. Death at 2:59 AM on January 31, 2003


vidiot: Would that be the Virgin of the Rocks? Stunning painting.

I think it was St. John the Baptist, though I want to believe there was a second painting with similar treatment next to it. I remember it being of an actual woman and not a guy with long hair. It may not have actually been a Leonardo though which would piss me off.

In any case the painting of St. John the Baptist doesn't come off as well in the photograph. More than most Leonardos its power hinges on the luminous qualities of its glazes which are really quite impressive.
posted by furiousthought at 7:50 AM on January 31, 2003


Mr. Death (heh), here is a great resource. It walks you through from when it was painted to present day. Were jaded now with photography but the realism at the time was a real mind blower. People had never seen anything like it before.
posted by thekorruptor at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2003


er, try here
posted by thekorruptor at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2003


Merci to everyone who suggested things for me. I'll definitely look into several of your ideas!
posted by trigfunctions at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2003


that's an interesting link, thekorruptor - it gave good insight as to how the painting appeared to contemporaries. I never knew that it was the first seated portrait of a partial rather than a full figure, or the stuff about how the background differed from others of the time...thanks.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:37 PM on January 31, 2003


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