Today is Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday, 564 years ago. And pictured above, of course, is his very famous Mona Lisa. He worked on this painting for the last 15 years of his life. Though his name has become synonymous with the Italian Renaissance and the spirit of creativity and invention, he only did some 30 paintings in his lifetime, most of them unfinished (only 15 survive). Most of his time was spent working in his notebooks—inventing, sketching, diagramming, thinking, discovering—most of his notes written in script only decipherable by holding them up to a mirror.
I remember being in Paris almost thirty years ago and seeing the Mona Lisa in the flesh at the Louvre for the very first time. There was a huge crowd of people in front of it. There was a sign that said “no flash photography allowed” yet there were flashes going off in this crowd and a guard nearby who didn’t care. The painting is actually relatively small (30″ x 21″). It was hard to get very close to it. And with all the hubbub, hard to actually spend quality time looking at it. The crowd in front of the painting was the real spectacle.
To its left without a single person near it was Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks (below), to my mind a much more interesting painting (I especially enjoy how the entire painting is compositionally balanced at the edge of a cliff). This painting is much larger (6′ 6″ x 4′) and JB and I were able to stand directly in front of it without a single person or flashing camera to distract us. It felt so very surreal to be in a room with such a large number of people huddled in front of the Mona Lisa and the rest of the room practically empty. It actually felt like being in Bunuel’s film Exterminating Angel, with the crowd being psychologically but not physically trapped, in this case, in front of a painting.
Buon Compleanno, maestro Leonardo!