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Mona Lisa

Related: Leonardo Da Vinci - 1500s - Italian art - Renaissance - high art - kitsch -

Mona Lisa (c. 1506-1507) - Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa can both be regarded as a work of high art and an example of kitsch. The mass-reproducibility of works of art has given birth to the concept of kitsch. [Apr 2006]


Mona Lisa (also known as the Monna Lisa; Italian La Gioconda; French La Joconde), is a painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci showing a woman with an introspective expression, smiling very slightly. It is probably the most famous portrait in art history. Few other works of art are so romanticized, celebrated, or reproduced. Leonardo began the picture in 1503 and completed it three or four years later. The oil painting on wood now hangs in the Louvre museum in Paris and is the museum's star attraction. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]


On August 22, 1911, the theft of the Mona Lisa was discovered. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of theft on September 7 and Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, believing that the painting belonged to Italy and shouldn't be kept in France, stole it by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat. However, greed got the better of him and the Mona Lisa was recovered when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Standard [...]

The Mona Lisa set the standard for all future portraits.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Reproduction [...]

The painting was reproduced as posters by Andy Warhol. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Caricature [...]

Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produced modifications and caricatures, for instance by drawing a moustache on the woman's face. The painting was reproduced as posters by Andy Warhol. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Canon [...]

Although utilizing a seemingly simple formula for portraiture, the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape has placed this work in the canon of the most popular and most analyzed paintings of all time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Genius [...]

The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects Leonardo's idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo's vision and genius. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa [Aug 2004]

Mona Lisa: high art and kitsch

French text:
Il y a dans le monde, et même dans le monde des artistes, des gens qui vont au musée du Louvre, passent rapidement, et sans leur accorder un regard, devant une foule de tableaux très intéressants, quoique de second ordre, et se plantent rêveurs devant un Titien ou un Raphaël, un de ceux que la gravure a le plus popularisés; puis sortent satisfaits, plus d'un se disant: "Je connais mon musée."

English translation:
“The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or Raphael—one of those that would have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.‘” -- Charles Baudelaire

In this excerpt, quoted from the Baudelaire's 1863 The Painter of Modern Life, an essay on Constantin Guys, Charles Baudelaire comments on the fact that works of art have lost their aura (a term I borrow here from Walter Benjamin) because of the technique of engraving. For the first time in history, engraving allowed images of works of art to be mass-popularized in posters and postcards. This essay foreshadows Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Needless to say, Walter Benjamin was an admirerer of Baudelaire.

It is precisely this mass-reproducibility of works of art, in two-dimensional (postcards of the Mona Lisa) as well as three-dimensional forms (plastic statues of the Venus of Milo), which has given birth to the concept of kitsch.

see also: 1863 - Painter of Modern Life - culture theory - media theory - Walter Benjamin - Charles Baudelaire - aura - aesthetics - modernism

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