Monday, January 10, 2011

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 14: Mona Lisa's Million Dollar Smile

“I’d go a million miles for one of her smiles,” are lyrics to an old song that doesn’t apply to Mona Lisa … but it could have. People world-over are drawn to the portrait painted in the early 1500s by Leonardo da Vinci and displayed at the Louvre in Paris where we visited last October. Although the title says: Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, there is speculation the model is a man. The myths and mystic smile attract unending interest. My guess is that the painting is, indeed, of a middle-class woman and that the work survived and thrived because a hint of a smile on any face in a portrait was perhaps rare in those days and required a leap of imagination by the artist.

Visitors stream to the Louvre not only to see Lisa. Artists of the past would be shocked to know their work would one day help finance future generations. As my photo of the painting above shows, people of long ago merge seamlessly with modern tourists generating funds for the economy.

Most paintings were large in Leonardo's time. Because the Mona Lisa (meaning My Lady Lisa) painting was relatively small (about 21 x 30 inches), the artist was able to carry it with him during his travels. He worked on it sporadically for a few years. It wasn't easy taking a photograph of the original due to the bullet proof glass. My least disatrous photo turned out to be of the black and white poster of Mona pictured at the beginning of this post.

Exquisite art lined the walls in rooms and hallways throughout the building. I had seen many of the paintings previously only in books. Viewing some of the work felt a little like seeing movie stars in person.

Historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte peered back at curious onlookers. "Why are you here?" his unwavering gaze seemed to ask.

Romantic figures posed dramatically, ignoring passersby.

Lovely ladies lounged in their finery.

Children in the paintings were sometimes depicted as footnotes.

The Da Vinci Code is a 2003 novel that captured the imagination of thousands who love a good conspiracy theory. A character in the book believes the small stone pyramid under a larger inverted pyramid in the foyer of the Louvre is positioned over a secret chamber hidden beneath the floor.

The book suggests the chamber holds the remains of Mary Magdalene and ancient documents revealing scandalous truths about early Christianity. The assertion that artifacts were hidden there by a secret society when the foyer was restructured in the late 1900s strikes me as pure but brilliant fiction.

Above the larger inverted pyramid there is an upright pyramid ceiling designed to bring light into the foyer. Beneath the glass creation local workers were shouting their objections to the French government's recent plans to change the retirement age from 60 to 62. (Currently in Canada it is 65 and the government is thinking of delaying it to 67 in future.)

Due to the rotating strikes, some doors at the Louvre (which employees some 2,000 people) were closed to the public.

These slightly unsettling conditions didn't stop the flow of visitors. Tourists were greeted as always by the statues within.

Some statues remained in repose as they had done for centuries. The Borghese Hermaphroditus is actually an ancient copy of an even more ancient Greek version. The figure is male on one side and female on the other. The work was restored by David Larique in 1619. The realistic warmly touchable mattress beneath the figure was made by Gianlorenzo Bernini the same year.

French sculpture Philippe Magnier started work on The Two Wrestlers in 1684 initially for the gardens at the Palace at Versailles. He copied a Roman restored Greek original discovered with missing heads in the late 1500s.

The goddess Venus de Milo with missing arms didn't lose her aura of beauty.

The Louvre was originally a fortress transformed many times over centuries. It was the main living quarters of French kings until Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his residence in 1682. The Louvre became a place to display royal collections and later a broader museum.

It is easy to imagine this pretty glass-incased decoration sitting at a lady’s boudoir when the Louvre functioned as the main palace.

Perhaps serious discussion or sparkling conversation filled the room around this well-polished circular table.

Candlelit meals were enjoyed in elegant style.

People rested on comfortable brocades and luxurious velvets.

Outside, the Fame Riding Pegasus sculpture trumpeted the splendor and power of the region.

The Louvre is a treasure trove unlike any other. With a final glance from our tour bus window, I grinned my non-Mona-Lisa-smile and reflected on having stood just feet away from what could be the costliest painting on the planet.

When the painting was stolen about a century ago to eventually be reinstated at the Louvre, its estimated value was 500 million dollars. Wouldn't Lisa Gherardini be amazed if she knew her features and peculiar expression would be even more valuable today? Wouldn't she also be surprised that her portrait would one day grace the inexpensive mousepad on my computer desk in BC thousands of miles away from Paris? Like the fascinating face that drew me to it, contemplating the original Mona Lisa never gets old.

Explorers can find more sites from around the globe at My World.


  1. Wow, I have so many comments I can't remember them all, except I'm amazed you could take pictures in the Louvre. We weren't allowed to take cameras in to the Prado in Madrid. But I know you took these because I could see your reflection in a glass case.
    I told Dick I don't think I could survive "tromping through the Louvre" but now I think I want to try. Oh, decisions, decisions.
    Gorgeous photos. If they can inspire me to think of trying to do all that walking, they are inspirational indeed.
    See you soon.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  2. Great post and tour. I went to the Louvre as a teen which I enjoyed but Mona wasn't on view, she was being cleaned or something. I was briefly in Paris with my daughter when she was a teen but she didn't want to go to the Louvre. I think she went later when she was studying abroad during her college years but we were in Paris so briefly together when she was about 15 that I let her set the agenda. I knew we'd both have more fun that way.

  3. what can i say but WOW!!!!!

  4. What a delightful tour, Penelope! I love the Louvre! It was one of the best things about my time in Paris and your photos brought back so many lovely memories! Thank you for sharing the beauty! Enjoy your week!


  5. What a great tour you had. When I saw the thumbnail pic on my blog of your blog of Mona Lisa, I had to come over and take a look. I love art and those works were wonderful to look at.

  6. Oh...that was a lovely tour, Penelope! I have not yet made it to the Louvre so I enjoyed sharing vicariously through your wonderful photos..thank you for that! Now that the busyness of Christmas is behind us, I will stop by with greater frequently. Hope to see more of your travel pics...:)


  7. These are just amazing. It's great you were able to take photos inside. Thanks for the thoughts on Mona Lisa. Your captures render her pretty.

  8. I'd love to visit the Louvre one day. Great tour!

  9. I have heard that song, in the movie Pelican Brief.

    I have read too that the model for the Mona Lisa was a man. I took a photo of a Mona Lisa mural, and focused on the mouth, she looks like a man.

    I will post it later.

    Thanks for the tour!

  10. Wonderful wonderful shots of the Louvre and some of its contents. It's a marvellous place!

  11. Beautiful paintings and sculptures. They are master pieces.

  12. ah, the Louvre! your photos bring back memories of my visit to Paris a few years ago. i was actually surprised that the Mona Lisa is a small painting, not as impressive as the other paintings. but yes, a hint of her smile is fascinating. what was she thinking while Da Vinci was painting her? :p

    with a lot of people [taller than i am] in front of me, it was difficult to get a good shot.:p thanks for the tour--this time, no blisters on my feet! LOL

  13. Very informative post. It's like taking a art class for free. Now I realized how little I remembered (or how much I have forgotten)!
    Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful day.

  14. You got many spectacular shots. I visited some of the palaces in Italy, unfortunately no photography was allowed. :(

  15. I also shared vicariously in your extraordinary visit to the Louvre, Penelope. I'm so glad you were able to take photographs. It is very difficult taking shots through glass. "Least disastrous" is hardly how I would describe your wonderful results:) As always, I enjoyed your uniquely personal responses to the beauty around you. Napoleon's question, ladies lounging, touchable mattress - it was great fun to have a glimpse through your eyes. 62, huh? Hm......

  16. Thanks for your kind comments, Carol. Yes … objecting to a retirement age of 62 might seem a little odd from the perspective of Canadians. I guess it’s a matter of expectations being squelched.

  17. Wonderful, wonderful tour! I would dearly love to visit the Louvre in person!


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