I’m going to be controversial here. It may well be the most famous painting in the world, one that has kept art lovers and theorists enthralled for centuries, but I just don’t see what the fuss is about with the Mona Lisa! I’ve been told since day one that it represents a seminal moment in art history, and should be held in the highest esteem. But to be totally honest, it just doesn’t do it for me. And that’s ok, right? We can’t all love everything. Wouldn’t that be dull?
Most likely my lack of respect for such a cultural icon stems from my attempts, as an impressionable teen, to go and worship at the altar of DaVinci. I was lucky enough to get to visit the Louvre twice, and on both occasions had the Mona Lisa pegged to be the highlight. Anti-climax doesn’t even cover the experience, however. Both times I arrived footsore and hungry at Leonardo’s wryly-smiling lady, only to be disappointed. I had expected the large number of other visitors who had come with the same intentions as I had, but not the fact that I would never get within twenty feet of what is, in the flesh, a pretty small work. Besides the guard rope and the crowds, the painting is further sequestered behind bulletproof glass, and the guards intermittently shouting ‘pas de flash, s’il vous plait!’ doesn’t make for a sublime viewing experience, either.
So yes, I get it, the eyes follow you around the room, but so do those of my two-year-old’s stuffed toys, and I find that more unsettling than awe-inspiring. And no doubt, the mystique that surrounds the painting is well founded. I particularly like the idea of Apollinaire and Picasso being hauled in for questioning over its theft in 1911. But when it comes to great portraiture I’ll take a fleshy Lucian Freud or a jagged, indistinct Frank Auerbach over a smug, privileged DaVinci any day.