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  • If you want praise of Leonardo daVinci's Mona Lisa as art, you can find it.

  • But what if you think it's just….

  • fine?

  • What's the cynic's explanation for the Mona Lisa?

  • Why is the Mona Lisa so, so famous?

  • Is it really that much better than da Vinci's Lady with Ermine?

  • That seems better.

  • There's one more ermine.

  • But it's Mona who is so famous that the director of the Louvre, where Mona Lisa lives,

  • said 80% of their visitors are only there to see that one painting.

  • If you don't think Mona Lisa is famous just because she's somehow 10 times better than every other painting,

  • her story reveals something more interesting,

  • something about how art breaks into wider culture.

  • And it might never have happened if the Mona Lisa hadn't disappeared.

  • Before Mona Lisa became a mass culture star, before she vanished, one critic made her a

  • work of art worth taking.

  • And he was so over-the-top insanely in love with the painting that he single-handedly

  • made it a masterpiece.

  • Walter Pater's 1873 book, The Renaissance, was key.

  • It came out more than 350 years after Leonardo painted it, but it defined the painting for

  • Victorians.

  • That was key in an age when it was hard to actually see the art.

  • So the words did the work.

  • Here is the epic semi-colon-stuffed paragraph at the center of his ode to Mona Lisa.

  • Highlights?

  • "The animalism of Greece" "She is older than the rocks among which

  • she sits."

  • "Like the vampire, she has been dead many times."

  • This was the purplest prose of all time.

  • But people loved the stuff.

  • Oscar Wilde thought the essay's writing was great.

  • He praised "the musical of the mystical prose."

  • And every general interest profile of the Louvre, from academic guidebooks to discussions

  • clubs in Paducah, used Pater's words to talk about Mona.

  • Other critics jumped onMona was a popular, secular painting that they could analyze.

  • Unlike da Vinci's Last Supper, they could supply all the meaning.

  • But even at her peak, Mona Lisa was just art world famous, not the most famous painting

  • of all time.

  • In 1907, a vandal at the Louvre targeted a picture by Ingres not da Vinci.

  • And in 1910, amidst rumors of theft, papers called Mona just the second most famous painting

  • in the Louvre, after Raphael's Sistina Madonna.

  • It took a real theft to take Mona from art syllabus highlight to mass culture icon.

  • These are Vincenzo Peruggia's fingerprints.

  • This is Vincenzo Peruggia's mugshot.

  • He has one because on August 21, 1911, the former Louvre worker lifted the Mona Lisa

  • off the wall and...took it home.

  • It took the Louvre a day to even notice, but the media didn’t have as subdued of a reaction.

  • The painting went missing for two years, and every time, the pressoften quoting Pater

  • called it the greatest portrait there ever was.

  • They speculated that Mona's smile had driven the thief mad, they wrote art thief fan fiction,

  • and they constantly daydreamed about Mona Lisa's whereabouts.

  • Thousands went to the Louvre just to see empty hooks hanging on the wall.

  • The robbery and manhunt were like a two year ad campaign for the painting.

  • And because you couldn't just Google "Mona Lisa before it was stolen," it was hard

  • for people to see the actual painting and say, "What's the big deal?"

  • When Peruggia was caught, he said his goal was to bring Mona back to her native Italy.

  • By then, she was the most famous painting in the world due, in part, to her absence.

  • Just as critics could smear prose on her blank face, the press could hang a reputation on

  • those empty hooks in the wall.

  • When Mona Lisa was stolen, she left a masterpiece.

  • After her recovery and a two week tour in Florence, she returned to the Louvre bigger

  • than just art.

  • She was a story and a legend and prominently shown in every paper that

  • reported her recovery.

  • It was the big reveal after 2 years of suspense, now with a story that merited Walter Pater's

  • hyperbole.

  • From that point on, she attracted Presidential speeches and parodies.

  • "Also come to pay homage to this great creation of the civilization which we share."

  • The momentum never stopped.

  • In the end, the cynic's interpretation and the gob-smacked critic's interpretation

  • have something in common.

  • Mona Lisa isn't a portrait, but a blank face.

  • A place for critics to paint meaning, and people to find mystery.

  • That’s why she was so famousnot because of how she's painted, but what we see in

  • her.

  • If that's not art, then what is?

  • I found one 1909 description of the Mona Lisa that seemed particularly prescient.

  • The writer said: "Even those whose first expressions [sic] is 'huh' and proclaimed

  • frankly that they cannot see her beauty or her interest find themselves disputing hotly

  • over both."

  • That's probably still the case today.

If you want praise of Leonardo daVinci's Mona Lisa as art, you can find it.

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How the Mona Lisa became so overrated

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    韓澐 posted on 2017/02/16
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