Wednesday, 17 August 2011

It's all about Mona.....

Just got back from a fantastic trip to Paris The city really is beautiful - the parks, the architecture, the shops, even the French language naturally oozes sophistication and culture. The Louvre museum is Paris’s most famous museum/gallery and its most famous exhibit is without doubt Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo to give it its full title. Now I’ve seen the Mona Lisa before, many years ago on our last visit to the Louvre. I remember walking in to a quiet gallery side room and it was there on the right hand wall, quite inconspicuous, my first thoughts being like many people ‘it’s smaller than I expected!’. There weren’t any particular crowds; a few people stopped for a little while and looked, there were obvious mutterings from those of us who were in awe of such a famous painting but nothing really earthshattering. You stopped, admired such a famous piece of art work and then moved on to the next.
This time however it was a whole new experience. The painting has moved to a new location within the museum's Salle des États. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bulletproof glass. Clearly the vast majority of the visitors come to the Louvre just to see her, an estimated 6 million people a year, and the buzz as we got closer to the entrance to the room was very noticeable. Throughout the Louvre were small signs with a black and white image of the painting and a simple arrow pointing you in the direction (I imagine these were at the instigation of the sour faced gallery attendants who were sick of being asked). And crowds of Japanese and blue rinse Americans on their European tours would eagerly follow these signs like the yellow brick road to their mecca. As we got closer to the room you could hear the noise of people and the click of multiple cameras. However even that didn’t prepare me for the huge crowd of people all swarmed around this painting madly taking pictures and jostling their way for a better position. As we stood there, yes adding ourselves to the crowd I am astonished by, more and more tour groups flooded in making the huge curve of eager photo hungry tourists swell to about 20 - 30 deep. Yet its hard not to get caught up in it all, you find yourself equally in awe of this painting and start taking multiple pictures that you will never look at again (especially as you get a reflection off the bullet proof glass!). You can’t help it you get carried away like a cork in a river with all the hysteria! (I had to take a panoramic picture just to get them all in!)
The crowd facing the Mona Lisa click to enlarge
And yet you look at it and you wonder why? In my opinion it’s not a particularly inspiring painting. It doesn’t really fill you with happiness, sadness or any other emotion (unlike the work by Monet, Rodin or Van Gogh at the Musse d’Orsee) yet it attracts these huge crowds of people. Yes, it’s a well-articulated painting and she has the ‘enigmatic’ smile that intrigues many people, but really does it warrant this fame and attention? In my opinion, no.
The next day the realisation hit me. We were at Disneyland and there on Main Street USA I watched as hundreds of people queued (just as we have in the past) to have their picture taken next to Mickey Mouse. That exact same hysteria whether it be a singer, actor, cartoon mouse or a painting – we all crave to see and be seen next to something that is famous or  ‘known’. Whether that person (thing) warrants it or not…it’s no different really to how tabloids make celebrities out of people that don’t warrant it, yet, like sheep, people follow. In fact the Mona Lisa herself would make a good tabloid front page – there’s continued speculation about who she really is, one such story being claimed that ‘she’ is actually da Vinci's male apprentice (and probable lover) Gian Giacomo Caprotti! Whoever she may be she now has one of the most famous faces in the world, quite an achievement considering nobody really knows why!