September 28, 2006 in Travel

Mona Lisa

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While in Paris last weekend, I spend 4 hours at the Louvre Museum. I actually wanted to spend more time there as it is by far the most impressive museum I have ever visited. However I was suffering from sensory overload, so I thought it best to move on and come back another time.
In any event, while there, one of the first paintings I took notice of was Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece Mona Lisa. I actually visited the painting at 3 different times as upon initial inspection, I was a bit disappointed and a bit perplexed as to why some have considered it the most important painting in Western art history. Don’t get me wrong, the Mona Lisa is a stunning painting. However, the painting is small and the woman featured is not a classic beauty. In fact, she looks a bit masculine with those weird hands. Yes she has an enigmatic smile that is quite captivating, but that still doesn’t explain the hype around this painting. Maybe the fame has more to do with the paintings complicated history — it has been stolen and moved around quite a few times. Whatever the case, I think that there are much more wonderful paintings to marvel at in the Louvre and other museums elsewhere in the world. That said, the Mona Lisa is still an attractive painting and if recent reports are to be believed, the model might have been “pregnant or had recently given birth.”

Maybe she should be called the Mama Lisa
3-D scan of `Mona Lisa’ reveals a garment worn by pregnant women, or those who’d just given birth
By Angela Doland, Associated Press, Published September 28, 2006
PARIS — Researchers studying 3-D images of the “Mona Lisa” say she probably was pregnant or had recently given birth when she sat for Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th Century masterpiece. The clue was something she wore.
Scans turned up evidence of a fine gauzy veil or robe, a garment women of the Italian Renaissance wore when they were pregnant or were new mothers, a leading French museum researcher, Michel Menu, said in an interview Wednesday.
As the painting aged, the robe darkened. The thick, dark varnish on the work and decades of grime made it hard even to know what color her dress is; it has been described as black, brown and green. A piece of fabric draped on her shoulder was sometimes interpreted as a shawl or a scarf.
But images obtained from infrared reflectography tell a different story. The veil, called a guarnello, is transparent, and it looks similar to a gauzy garment in Sandro Botticelli’s “Portrait of a Lady,” depicting a pregnant woman with her hand over her stomach.

Tradition holds that the “Mona Lisa” is a painting of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, and that Leonardo started painting it in 1503.
The veil “would confirm art historians’ hypothesis that Giocondo asked for a painting of his wife to celebrate the birth of his second son,” said Menu, chief of the research department at the French Museums’ Center for Research and Restoration, which has its offices in the Louvre.
The scans also make clear that Mona Lisa does not have her hair down, as it appears. Most of her tresses are pinned back into a chignon and covered with a veil, Menu said. The analyses of hairstyle and clothes were made by Bruno Mottin, curator of the research department at the center.
Various high-grade scans were taken over three sessions in October 2004, on days when the Louvre was closed, sometimes overnight.
Teams from the National Research Council of Canada analyzed the painting with three-dimensional digitization through laser scanner technology.
The scans revealed depth resolution so detailed it was possible to see differences in the height around the paint surface cracks and in the thickness of the varnish.
“We know how the painting is painted with very thin layers,” Mottin told reporters in Ottawa.
John Taylor of Canada’s National Research Council said there were no signs of brush strokes. “That includes the very fine details of the embroidery on the dress, the hair,” he said. “This is the je ne sais quoi of Leonardo. The genius. We don’t know how he applied it.”
The data show warping in the poplar panel Leonardo used as his canvas, but the painting is in relatively good shape.

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