Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mona Lisa's Enigmatic Smile Cracked!

A manuscript expert at the University of Heidelburg, Germany (which, by the way, I will forever associate with Anatomie, the awesome slasher flick starring Franka Potente and Benno Fürmann) claims he has uncovered evidence which proves once and for all the identity of the model in what is perhaps the world's most famous painting.


In Giorgio Vasari's Lives of Famous Artists (Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scrittori e architettori), he writes that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) began work on this masterpiece in 1503, but "after lingering over it for four years" he set it aside unfinished. Da Vinci took the painting with him when he moved to the French court in 1516, and there he finally completed it three years later, shortly before his death.

Da Vinci's patron, King François I (1494- 1547), bought the painting himself and kept it at the Royal Château of Fontainebleau where it remained until Louis XIV (1638-1715) transferred it to the Palace of Versailles. It was moved to the Louvre after the first French Revolution (1789-1799).

But the painting's story doesn't end there: during his reign, Napoleon (1769-1821) had it hung for a time in his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace, and it would be removed from the Louvre twice more during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and World War II (1939-1945) in order to keep it out of the grubby paws of those art-thieving Germans.

In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen by the Italian-born Vincenzo Peruggia who was motivated by some combination of patriotism and greed. And finally, in 1956, it was vandalized in two separate incidents (one nutjob splashed acid on it and another struck it with a rock). It can still be found in the Louvre today, lying behind a plate of bulletproof glass, and it lives up to every bit of its hype.

Who's that girl?

In the Lives, first published in 1550, Vasari states that the model for Da Vinci's portrait of a female begun in 1503 was Lisa Gherardini (1479-1541?), the wife of wealthy Florentine textile merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Thus, in English we call the painting "Mona Lisa" ("Mona" or "Monna" is an abbreviaton of "Madonna," which means "Milady," and was a title used to address aristocratic women in Medieval and Renaissance Italy). In Italian, the painting is called "La Gioconda" which means the merry or playful woman (hence the smile) and is also a play on her husband's surname.

Incidentally, Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) was himself a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. Besides being famous as the author of the Lives, he was also a painter (I am particularly fond of his frescoes depicting the Florentine victories over Pisa and Siena which flank the Salone dei Cinquecento) and an architect (he designed Florence's Uffizi as well as the super cool secret corridor which connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno river, running above the Ponte Vecchio).

Yet over the years, a lot of art historians have questioned whether Vasari really knew what he was talking about. It has been suggested that the woman depicted in the painting was one of dozens of other contemporary noblewomen, da Vinci's mother, or (perhaps most outrageously) Leonardo in drag.

Latest Sleuth Work

In 2004, Florentine scholar Giuseppe Palanti dug up new evidence in the city's archives which bolsters Vasari's original claim. It turns out Leonardo's father, Piero da Vinci, was a notary who authenticated several documents for Lisa's husband, Francesco del Giocondo. Moreover, the two men were neighbors. Palanti also established that Vasari too was personally acquainted with the del Giocondo family thus suggesting the source of his information.

And now it has been announced by the University of Heidelberg library that manuscript expert Dr. Armin Schlecter has discovered even more proof that Mona Lisa was indeed da Vinci's model. Some notes were scribbled in the margin of an old collection of Cicero's letters by Agostino Vespucci, a Florentine city official and acquaintance of da Vinci, in October 1503. In the notes Vespucci states that the Renaissance master was working on three paintings at the time, one a portrait of Lisa Gherardi. This contemporary source citing Mona Lisa as da Vinci's model is quite a breakthrough, and some art experts believe this question has by now been satisfactorily answered.

Is Mona Lisa pregnant?

Even with the mystery of her identity laid to rest, there are still other puzzles surrounding Mona Lisa. For example, some experts believe the model was pregnant or had just recently given birth when she sat for the painting. Laser scanning seems to show the traces of a veil (purportedly worn by expectant and newly-delivered mothers at the time) which has been obscured by the ravages of time. Others say that the model has an enlarged thyroid gland typical of pregnant women. This meshes with what we know about Mona Lisa as she gave birth to five children, and it is traditionally held that the painting was commissioned to celebrate the birth of her family's second son.

Why is she smiling?

A large part of Mona Lisa's allure comes from her enigmatic half smile. Some say that this smile embodies the "feminine mystique." Is she happy? amused? annoyed? mischievous? flirtatious? As Nat King Cole sings, "do you smile to tempt a lover Mona Lisa? Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?" Scientists have analysed Mona Lisa's face using emotion recognition software and elaborated on how our different impressions might be influenced by tricks of the light and other visual noise, but forgive me for believing that what was going on in the mind of this woman who lived over five hundred years ago will forever elude us.


Image of Mona Lisa taken from www.artchive.com

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy 2008, Bloggers!

Happy New Year everyone! I've been spending the first few weeks of 2008 recovering from New Year's Eve revelry, nursing a cold, fixing my itunes library (I officially hate Apple), planning my birthday trip (I'm trying hard to keep things from getting all My Super Sweet 16, but feel free to call it an egotrip if you want), and generally enjoying the downtime from blogging.

But I guess its about time to get back into the swing of things. Here's some pics of me saying "smell ya later" to 2007 over in H-town.

Hmm. I kind of look like a mischievous (or "mis-CHEE-vee-us", if you will) chipmunk. Here's another pic of me taken that same night...

For real though, don't act like you don't see the resemblance. OK here's one more. I especially like the handbag pinned between me and Ada

I figured a decent way to ease back into blogging, and also maybe let everyone know what's going on in my life would be to post my responses to one of those stupid surveys that you always see on myspace (which, if you're still using myspace, I think it's time to switch over to facebook). This suvey is apparently for "people who are getting older" (again, I found this on myspace so I'm sure I qualify):

1. What bill do you hate paying most? Rent

2. Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner? I guess it was Rice

3. [Redacted] 3 was missing from survey when I found it.

4. If you could go back and change one thing what would it be? I'd have started studying Chinese when I was 7

5. Name of your first grade teacher? I want to say Mrs. Yirmack (no idea on the spelling)but that was 2nd grade

6. What do you really want to be doing right now? eating sushi and drinking beer

7. What did you want to be when you were growing up? when i was a little kid I wanted to be a "truck man". Later I thought I wanted to be an architect (but then I tried using a t-square...).

8. How many colleges did you attend? Just one (be true to your school). Well unless you count the University of Florence.

9. Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now? I've been wearing this tshirt since last night. Maybe I shouldn't be sleeping in it consider how much I paid for the stupid thing.

10. What are your thoughts on gas prices? Sucks for people with cars.

11. If you could move anywhere and take someone with you where would it be? Hong Kong maybe

I2. First thought when the alarm went off this morning? On Thursday morning I think my first thought was "You've gotta be kidding me"

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night? No idea. I was probably thinking about the movie Sissi that I watched last night.

14. Do you miss being a child? No, I'm happy about being an adult

15. Who is the last person you had an argument with? Maybe Ada (Really it was with myself. It happens more often than you'd think).

16. What errand/chore do you despise? Tidying up the apartment

17. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer? Yes.

18. Get up early or sleep in? Sleep in

19. What is your favorite cartoon character? It's hard to pick just one. I'm going to go with Fry from Futurama

20. Favorite thing to do at night with a woman? With a woman huh? I'll say "drink red wine"

21. Have you found real love yet? no

22. When did you first start feeling old? one time last year some kid (who was besides this annoying and ugly) said that maybe I was too old to be a young Democrat. May he be mauled by bears like the childen who mocked the prophet Elisha (I stole that line from P.G. Wodehouse).

23.What do you do for fun? Ugh. Why am I even filling this out?

24. Your favorite lunch meat? Roast beef

25. What do you get every time you go into Costco? fruit, water, juice

26. Beach or lake? beach

27. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual? kind of

28. Do you own property? no

29. Favorite Guilty pleasures? Watching Gossip Girl. Eating drunken noodles.

30. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about? Teen Witch

31. What's your drink? Lately it's been Jack and soda.

32. Cowboys or Indians? Indians

33. Cops or Robbers? Robbers

34. Who from high school would you like to run in to? My friend Nilay I guess

35. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now? N/A for a number of reasons

36. Norm or Cliff? Cliff because of his layman's knowledge of obscure facts

37. Grey's or 'The Office? The Office, but I don't really watch either one.

38. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back? Making out with someone I didn't really like (and not just one time).

39. Do you like the person that sits directly across from you at work? No and no. Eh they're OK.

40. What famous person would you like to have dinner with? How about Christiane Amanpour?

41. Indoors or Outdoors? Is this like I only get one for the rest of my life? I guess put me down for indoors.

42. Have you ever crashed your vehicle? Oh yes.

43. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purpose? Yes. But of course I couldn't find it.

44. Last book you read? Reading the Odyssey right now. Before this I read a few stories by HP Lovecraft

45. Do you have a teddy bear? I have some stuffed animals.

46. Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth? I've walked around the house with the toothbrush in my mouth before.

47. Somewhere in California you've never been and would like to go? Napa, San Francisco

48. Do you go to church? No

49. At this point in your life would you rather start a new career or a new relationship? Hmm... I guess a relationship.

50. How old are you? 29