EST. 2009

April 15, 2015

That Mystic Smile

"OR JUST A COLD AND LONELY, LOVELY WORK OF ART" ends the song popularized by Nat Cole in 1950, singing poetically about Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Lisa del Giocondo. Lovely, she is. But lonely, Mona Lisa definitely isn't, with flocks of visitors coming to gaze upon her at the Louvre each year. Highly replicated even during da Vinci's lifetime, the Mona Lisa has, in the modern age, also been subject to numerous reinterpretations by artists and amateurs alike.

Among early derivative works are Eugène Bataille's pipe-smoking Le Rire in 1883, and Marcel Duchamp's readymade L.H.O.O.Q. in 1919. Salvador Dalí created the cheeky Self Portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954 and René Magritte painted the surreal La Joconde in 1962. Fernando Botero created two Mona Lisa paintings, in 1959 and 1963, although the second version better represents his full-figured style. Printing multiple versions of multiplied Mona Lisas, Andy Warhol created the screen-printed Mona Lisa (Two Times), Four Mona Lisas and Thirty are Better than One in the 60s. Jean-Michele Basquiat's Federal Reserve Note features the lady in the artist's signature scrawl, while Lennie Mace's Mona a'la Mace has her drawn with in ballpoint pen.

Reinterpretations that break the Mona Lisa's recognizable composition include Robert Rauschenberg's Currency (Mona Lisa), Keith Haring's Apocalypse Mona Lisa and Jasper Johns's Figure 7. Banksy's various versions of the Mona Lisa also stray from the original with the incorporation of a rocket launcher and an exposed bottom.

Beyond traditional mediums, the Mona Lisa has been depicted with Lego blocks, jelly beans, coffee, toast, Rubik's cubes and 100,000 carats of jewels, among other materials. The variety of style, scale, not to mention selling price of the works, while resulting in both the amazing and the atrocious, serve only to reinforce the iconic status of da Vinci's original.

Born today in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci has gifted us with one of the world's most beguiling manifestations of human artistry. It's unfortunate to hear disappointment expressed towards the Mona Lisa's modest size and presence at the Louvre, when her face amidst the crowd filled me with a tear-jerking, heart-swelling awe. I was genuinely moved.

"It's so small!" some say. Actually, it's anything but.

Le Rire by Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), Mona a'la Mace by Lennie Mace, La Joconde by René Magritte, Self Portrait as Mona Lisa by Salvador Dalí, Figure 7 by Jasper Johns and L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp