Something which has always baffled me is the global adoration of the Mona Lisa. A painting which seems to raise so many controversial questions and theories. A painting which can be recognised by anyone, and a painting which brings thousands of people to the Louvre each year just to get a glimpse at this smiling (or frowning) mysterious woman. Yawn.
Quite frankly this painting is nothing more than underwhelming. As an art history student I am consistently exposed to some of the most incredible works of art and then to try and get my head around the international fascination of the Mona Lisa... well I can't. Just to clear up I am not criticising the unquestionable talent of Leonardo da Vinci, who is one of the most revolutionary artists in the world, but he has so many other works which, I believe, could easily take the Mona Lisa off her undeserving pedestal.
Why is this painting so famous? In 1911 the painting was stolen from the Louvre by an Italian carpenter, however Picasso was actually a suspect. So the most renowned painting in the world is merely famous due to the fact that it was stolen, and possibly by Picasso (even though it wasn't).
Another fame factor of the painting is her emblematic smile. Or is it a frown? I'm going with smile. Supposedly the painting is a visual representation of happiness or 'gioconda'. We have all seen this painting, we have all seen her smile, so if that expression is a visual representation of happiness then what on earth would anger and sadness look like. Her expressions resembles that awkward smile you do when you're stuck talking to that odd uncle about politics when you really just want to go and get another glass of wine, rather than happiness.
Da Vinci lingered over this painting for four years and left it unfinished, according to Georgio Vasari, so maybe, just maybe, that's why she doesn't have eyebrows, because he didn't paint them. I know I am being cynical, and the painting itself is not a bad painting, whatever that means anyway, I just do not believe it should hold the international glorification that it has.
I am going to give you a few suggestions of works that I believe could (or should) take her place. Frida Kahlo's 'Self-Portrait with a Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird', 1940. This piece is not only so beautiful to look at but within it hides symbolic elements which personifies her deep suffering linked to a tragic accident she had had when she was 18 resulting in numerous surgeries and infertility. The use of colour is just breathtaking and the way she critiques herself so intensely and with such deep honesty is brilliant. Also she most definitely has eyebrows and she is not smiling... for the record. The thorns around her neck pierce her skin drawing blood, yet she is calmly but patiently enduring the pain. This painting juxtaposes beauty with pain, love with horror. To be honest there is so much to unpack within this painting. Its a feminist symbol, its emotive, it reveals the artists cruel truths, it deserves the international fame more than Mona.
Another possible contender is Joaquin Sorolla, 'Sewing the Sail', 1896. When it comes to the Mona Lisa many people who go to see this painting are merely doing it so that they can take a photo next to it. They'll broadcast their visit on social media, probably not even taking the time to read about the painting itself. If that is the case, and it does seem to be as in galleries a lot of people are there for a good 'gram', then might as well stand in front of something breathtaking. Sorolla's painting 'Sewing the Sail' is one of the most spectacular pieces of work using light. The light trickles through plants illuminating this white sail. The golden hour light floods the painting and seeing it in person was so exciting. It's huge and it just makes any person stop and look. Sorolla was known as the master of light and this painting is a clear example of why. An ordinary, and dull, task of folding a sail has been transformed into a picture perfect moment.
So why does this painting trump the Mona Lisa? I'm going to include photos so that you can see for yourself.
The Mona Lisa is a beautiful portrait and it is interesting to think why it took Leonardo da Vinci so long to finish and why Napoleon chose to hang it in his room, and then why it was stolen. The reputation of this portrait of an, essentially, unknown woman has now been seen by millions of people. A portrait which was for a husband of his wife is now the most widely known painting in the world.
First painting is Frida Kahlo's 'Self-Portrait with a Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird', 1940.
Second painting is Joaquin Sorolla, 'Sewing the Sail', 1896.
This is short but I will probably turn this into a series talking about famous works and why I think they are over-rated, I have a few others in mind.