Is this odd or what? The March issue of Art News magazine recalls an article it published 50 years ago titled “Why they attack the Mona Lisa,” by Salvador Dalí in which he defends Mona Lisa against mockeries like DADA artist Marcel Duchamp’s drawing of a mustache and goatee on a photograph of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of her.
The odd thing is that Dali did his share of mocking Mona. Consider Philippe Halsman’s portrait of Dali as the Mona Lisa, complete with goatee and mustache – an obvious reference to Duchamp’s parody, except the eyes are Dali’s. And the mustache is his signature waxed job.
If this isn’t mockery, what is?
Not that Dali and Duchamp were the only Mona mockers. http://tapeunit.com/article/what-mona-lisa-makes-the-news-again
I’m thinking of Frederico Zeri, art history professor at Catholic University in Milan, who wrote in his book “Behind the Image” that Mona’s smile is simply the effect of innumerable coats of varnish and dirt beneath the surface and that if the painting were cleaned, the mystery of Mona would disappear.
No less silly is the theory of Dr. Kenneth D. Keele, who wrote in a medical journal that Mona was pregnant. How could he tell? What else? The maternal calm of her smile, of course.
Then there was art historian Henrik Willem Van Loon, who said in his book “The Arts” that Leonardo painted Mona’s strand-like lips indistinctly as they merge into soft shadow because he didn’t paint lips very well. Van Loon points to the same mouths in Leonardo’s other portraits of women, Madonna and Child with St. Anne and Lady with an Ermine. He also pointed out that the so-called smile can be seen in numerous ancient sculptures, which he contends is due to the same thing that plagued Leonardo: an inability to render mouths.
How, you may ask, can such a gifted draftsman have trouble with mouths? Van Loon had a ready answer. There’s a big difference between drawing and painting, he said – that and the fact that Leonardo was not a disciplined painter. He seldom finished a picture, which accounts for the paltry number he left behind.
But never mind all that. While the smile that starts at the edge of Mona’s mouth and then dies, as if she decided to un-smile, and never reaches her eyes, it reaches through time and haunts us still.