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  • Mona Lisa Madness February 5, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has long taken an interest in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Not because he is particularly a fan of cold and bold LdV and those other renaissance artists who wrecked the unity of the Middle Ages. But because the Giocanda has attracted pretty much every mad theory about: we’ll come to this week’s in a moment. With Atlantis you are limited to the question of ‘where’. With King Arthur it is ‘who’ and perhaps ‘when’. But with ML you can go wild for there are as many controversies as there are souls that travel.

    The first controversy is, of course, who is portrayed in the painting. Here the boring and conventional answer is Lisa Gheradini. But there are some other possibilities including that Beachcombian hero Caterina di Sforza, which is rather awkward as we have other portraits of CS that look nothing like ML, Isabella d’Este, ditto, and Beachcombing’s personal favourite Leonardo himself. They do it with mirrors, you know…

    The second controversy is that smile. The present writer can see nothing interesting here but sages and mages have become extraordinarily excited by the turn of ML’s lips: Vienna Voodoo Freud went so far as to claim that she was remembering her mother… There has been the (interesting) suggestion thatML was pregnant and that this produced the imitation grin. The angle of the smile has been used to demonstrate that ML had lost many teeth or/and that she had Bell’s Palsy [outstanding article warning]. There has even been exhaustive analysis of what the smile ‘means’. In case you are wondering: 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry. And this too begs many questions…

    The third controversy is the background to the painting that is admittedly very unusual. So unusual that if there was a weird backstory to the painting then Beachcombing would expect to find it here. But even Beach would rebel at the most exciting theory doing the rounds, namely that Leonardo was basing his work on Chinese landscapes: wth! Others have had some fun trying to decide what corner of northern central Italy (or downtown Peking) is immortalised here. Beachcombing particularly enjoys the ultra efficient eyes of art historian, Carla Glori who spotted the numbers 72 on the three arched bridge and so worked out (not to everyone’s satisfaction) that this was Columbanus’ territory, Bobbio and that the numbers were a reference to the flooding of the local river in 1472. CG also saw letters in ML’s eyes: that others have argued are cracks in the oil painting. We are back to canals on Mars.

    The fourth controversy is which is the original Mona Lisa. No really!  There are several ‘copies’ and some have argued that these copies were either coterminous with Leonardo’s or are the original. For example, just yesterday, the Prado copy of the ML was shown (on good grounds if reports are factual) to have been painted at the same time as Leonardo’s, very possibly by an apprentice. Beach wonders if the Prado’s ML also had Bell’s Palsy.

    After this tour through the labyrinth of human ingenuity Beach would like to offer his own modest addition to the canon: quipus cunningly tied into ML’s hair tell the tragic story of a ménage a trois between LdV his nameless apprentice (henceforth the Prado Apprentice) and Lisa Gheradini, whose teeth were damaged when her husband, an importer of Chinese landscape paintings, hit his wife hard with a stone shaped like a three-arched bridge after learning of the inevitable pregnancy.

    Was LdV the father?

    Now, in all seriousness, the only truly exciting and uncontroversial information to come out about the ML in the last fifty years: Beachcombing watched an art historian do a pirouette while describing the news. In 2005 a German academic Armin Schlechter discovered that ‘in a copy of the works of Roman philosopher Cicero, a Florentine official and friend of Leonardo’s [had written] in the margins that da Vinci was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The friend, Agostino Vespucci, dated his notes October 1503, also helping to pin down the exact time Leonardo was working on the painting’. Of course, it is possible that Agostino was referring to another picture but the chances of ML being anyone but Lisa Gherardini have now receded still further.

    Any other ML madness? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    11/2/12: David B writes in ‘In addition to the mysteries surrounding the Mona Lisa is one surrounding Marcel Duchamp’s “defacing” of what was purportedly a crudely made postcard of the original.  According to Rhonda Roland Shearer (wife of the late Stephen Jay Gould), the face in Duchamp’s ML is actually his own modified to look at least somewhat like ML.  I’m not sure if the Leonardo self-portrait theory was known at the time of Duchamp’s efforts but it creates a nice parallel which would be all the more interesting if Duchamp did make it as a self-portrait without knowing of the Leonardo self-portrait theory.  Here’s a link about it: If you’ll forgive the self-promotion [forgiven], I did a very badly drawn comic (in two parts and with at least one glaring spelling mistake) about the Duchamp story which starts here. ’ Then Invisible sends in a Mona Barbie. Beach has no words.

    Thanks Invisible and David!