MOSI’s “Secrets of Mona Lisa” would be woefully out of date now. Would you believe more Mona is in the news again with more “discoveries”?
Mona, long been identified as Lisa Gioconda wife of wealthy silk merchant Francesco del Giaconda of Florence, is someone else. Now she’s said to be Bianca Giovanna Sforze, daughter of a duke out of Milan.
“Bianca Giovanna Sforze” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like “Mona Lisa,” does it? Of course, it the lady were really Bianca, etc., you can forget about that other contention that she’s Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait or my personal favorite, Leonardo’s mother, Caterina.
You can also forget about that other centuries-old belief that the scene behind Mona is Leonardo’s home town of Vinci. Now they say it’s Bobbio, in the Trebbia River valley ofnorthern Italy.
Why the change in scenery? Get this. The number 72 has been spotted in the painting, under an arch of the bridge. And since there was a bridge in Bobbio that was almost flooded in 1472, the number indicates the town of Bobbio.
Pretty flimsy, don’t you think?
Heck, if 1472 is some kind of clue, it could well be argued that Leonardo painted 72 under the arch of the bridge to honor Leon Battista Alberti, who died that year. Alberti considered painting a science and was big on perspective, which was formalized as a painting technique in 1472. Leonardo believed as Alberti did.
I like my theory better than the reference to a flood that ALMOST destroyed the bridge. Puh-leeze.
Anyway, if Bobbio turns out to be the right town, we need to forget that other “discovery” reported in my April column about the background scenery being eastern Tuscany. (http://glowbass.com/art-in-st-petersburg/mona-lisa-mona-lisa).
Wait, there’s more. Some software analysis of Mona’s smile reveals that she’s not smiling after all. She’s expressing disgust (9%), not happiness (3%). Second to disgust is fear (6%). Anger lags behind at 2%.
So never mind my column in Oct. (hey, I just report the news) http://glowbass.com/art-critic-in-national/making-mona-un-smileof yet another computer test showing that Mona’s fugitive expression is due to the way our eyes and brains compute light and dark. Supposedly, if you’re looking at her eyes with peripheral vision, you’re said to pick up shadows from the cheeks that suggest a smile. But there is no such suggestion if you look directly at the mouth.
OK, where am I going with this? My answer begins with Donald Sassoon’s book Becoming Mona Lisa: The Making of a Global Icon. Sassoon says that the modern popularity of the portrait, owned by the Louvre, is the result of constant discussion about it.
The making of a global icon also applies to the Louvre’s Venus de Milo. My Jan. 11 column noted that it was the French who have been promoting the Venus de Milo as an icon of female beauty. (http://glowbass.com/art-critic-in-national/unexpected-consequence-of-idol-worship)
And if you dig deeper into the story, you find that the Louvre had another Venus, the Venus de Medici, which the French highly prized but had to return to Italy. That was around the time they acquired the Venus de Milo. And to hear Martin Robertson tell it in “A History of Greek Art,” the French were bent on promoting their new find – as though to make up for the Venus they lost to Italy. That’s when the extraordinary reputation of the statue was born. In short, the so-called icon of female beauty is the result of propaganda.
All of which suggests that the constant attention paid to Mona Lisa is a variation on the Venus de Milo scheme. Establish interest and perpetuate it with one so-called discovery after another and its popularity becomes a habit.
In other words, we’ve been snookered.