Monday, August 24, 2015

Mona Lisa's changing smile, and other art thoughts

A flurry of news articles related to the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting "Mona Lisa" have come across my twitter stream. Here's one.

Mystery of the Mona Lisa’s smile solved: Second painting shows how da Vinci created an optical illusion to trick viewers
The Mona Lisa's mysterious expression may have captivated the world, but hers isn't the only enigmatic smile Leonardo da Vinci created. Researchers examining an earlier painting by the Renaissance master claim to have unravelled the painter's secret to creating an 'uncatchable smile'. The study reveals how La Bella Principessa, painted by da Vinci before he completed the Mona Lisa in the late 15th Century, uses a clever trick to lure in the viewer. Researchers found that by expertly blending colours to exploit our peripheral vision, the shape of the subject's mouth appears to change according to the angle it is viewed from. When viewed directly, the slant of the mouth is distinctly downwards, according to the research by scientists at Sheffield Hallam University and Sunderland University. As the viewer's eye wanders elsewhere to examine other features, however, the mouth appears to take an upward turn, creating a smile that can only be seen indirectly, much like the Mona Lisa's.
The Mona Lisa is an interesting painting. First, it is SMALL. With the centuries of hubbub and attention one would think it was as big as Picasso's 25 foot wide Guernica. Mona Lisa by comparison is just 30 in × 21 in.

It is also encased behind bullet proof glass, thick glass. And roped off. You cannot get close to examine the brush strokes or colors, since it has been the target of vandalism.

But is still an extremely compelling painting, as evidenced by the story above. How did Leonardo do it? Who is the woman? Why is she smiling secretly?

When my husband and I traveled to Italy and Rome I kept a travel journal. Here it is,

Here are the two pages logging my trip to the Louvre in Paris, where Mona Lisa is on display.

I'd written, "I won't even try to describe the Louvre. It is huge, wide, filled and absolutely tear-jerkingly beautiful."

So much art, so beautiful. I'd been moved by the power of the art of the Raft of the Medusa. The desperation the fear, the sweat, the piercing pain of sharks, sting of salt water, all palpable.

...intrigued by Cimabue's Maesta. Cimabue was the bridge between the Byzantine era and the Renaissance, when perspective and shadow began to be used.

...kind of disappointed by the Venus de Milo. I just don't get that one. but then again I've never been able to understand statues that well (except for Michaelangelo's David).

and fell in LOVE with the Renaissance ceramiche
Source: Louvre
It's been a long time since I gazed at beautiful art, except for the art in my home. Art is moving. Art is thought provoking. Art chronicles history. Art is necessary. Encourage your kids to experiment with clay, paints, pencil. Have fun one Saturday making papier-mâché. Indulge the crayons. I still remember the glory of coloring with sharp crayons, and when Crayola expanded the colors and included gold and silver. It was thrilling. It turned out I cannot make art all that well, but I enjoy looking at it and thinking about it, and being moved by it.

My aunt gave me this Childe Hassam "Boston Common at Twilight" twenty, thirty years ago...and I look at it all the time. It calms me. It's a charming and wonderful painting. I always discover something new to admire in it.

What are some of your favorite pieces of art? How do they make you feel, what do they make you think about?


Anonymous said...

When I was a little girl, I had these three paintings of ballerinas en pointe. I don't remember the artist, but I don't think it was anything famous like Degas. Anyhow, I loved those paintings, and I had a music box too, with a ballerina figurine, and it played a beautiful song. I wanted to be like those beautiful ballerinas, so graceful and lithe. They looked so free, and so serene. I still love classical ballet today.


Elizabeth Prata said...

Carolyn that sounds lovely. And the music box too, those seem like relics of a long-ago past, now. We don't see them much any more.

Grace to You said...

I have a print of Botticelli's La Primavera which came from the gift shop of the Uffizi, brought to me by a friend who was vacationing there. It's just a small portion of the painting, a head shot of the woman scattering flowers, but I love it.

The man who would become my husband had lived in London for a year and had fallen in love with art museums while there. When he came to my house for the first time and saw that print, I'm quite sure it's what pushed him over the edge into marriage. :)

Elizabeth Prata said...

Primavera is so pretty!! Oh yes, no doubt that was what was the final push!