Art & Design Magazine

Let Us Leave The Mona Lisa Alone

By Arfully Yours
Let Us Leave The Mona Lisa AloneEvery once in a while an article pops up with more inconclusive information on the specifics of the identity of the ever elusive Mona Lisa. The latest attempt comes from Italy, where a former television producer is claiming that he will dig up the bones of one Lisa Gherardini, "the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco de Giocondo" and who has been long credited by Vasari to be the woman in the portrait. Silvano Vinceti plans to dig up the bones, carbon-date them, DNA test them against DNA samples of other members of the Gherardini family, and then recreate her likeness in order to find out if the painting is in fact her. Yet, according to The Times, he is of the school of thought that believes the actual model for the painting was Leonardo's apprentice and companion Giangiacomo Caprotti da Oreno.
Yes. If this whole process sounds complicated, useless and ultimately unnecessary that's because it is. Of course Vinceti's endeavor is merely the latest in a long list of useless attempts to uncover the identity behind one of the most famous half smiles of western culture. But quite frankly I think it's time we stop.
As Germaine Greer pointed out back in February, the Mona Lisa has long been identified by Vasari, and subsequently confirmed:
Mona Lisa has been securely identified by Vasari as Lisa Gherardini, wife of the Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, and the portrait as the one in the possession of François I now in the Louvre. It was assumed that the picture was painted in Florence after Leonardo returned from his travels with Cesare Borgia in 1503 and before he went back to Milan in 1506. The assumption was verified in 2005 when a librarian at the University of Heidelberg, preparing a copy of the 1477 edition of Cicero's Epistoles ad Familiares for an exhibition, came upon a marginal note by Agostino Vespucci comparing Leonardo with Apellesm, in which he notes that Leonardo was then working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The note is dated 1503.
Yet questions still remain. At this point though, who is  actually asking the questions remains unclear.
Aside from the obvious aesthetic considerations and the Da Vinci authorship, I never understood the world's fascination with the Mona Lisa, which is in all honesty fairly dull and similar to a myriad of Renaissance portraits in existence. In fact, for me, the importance of the piece has always laid on the side of value (yes, monetary value) and the fact that it is a part of Leonardo's ouvre, which is, in comparison to other masters, fairly small. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet, I feel bad for our dear Gioconda getting all of this unwarranted attention; stolen, stripped of her identity as a woman, identified as just the pretty apprentice of the master artist, and - my favourite claim of all - diagnosed with high cholesterol and an under-eye tumor.
The fact remains, that whether or not the painting is based upon the likeness of a woman, or a man, or Leonardo, or a composite of many sketches created by the artist before making the final painting (which, anyone that knows anything about the artistic process will tell you, is probably the case), doesn't hinder my ability to appreciate the Mona Lisa's aesthetic value. And it shouldn't hinder yours. It seems to me that the fascination to find some sort of concrete idea over the identity of the portrait is linked merely to some sick tabloid-like inquisitiveness, plus the boatloads of money that come to the people making these useless 'discoveries,' and maybe some good ol' human natured curiosity. I suppose the Louvre doesn't mind, given the extra attention this brings to their priced possession, which is by the way is the least exciting work of art in that museum and the most annoying one to try to look at.
Studying art seldom involves grave digging, and looking at art even less so. This type of investigation is unnecessary, and ultimately counter-productive to the previous claims Mr. Vinceti has made about the Mona Lisa's identity. Is he trying to prove himself wrong? Whatever the case may be, she is tiny, trapped behind a glass case and photographed all day, I really think we should leave her alone.
Images via: Story Culture, Louvre Museum

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By thecleverpup
posted on 07 April at 13:11
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Great article. I blogged about this yesterday and have the same conclusions. It's readable on Paperblog. I didn't know that about Greer