Throughout my years of blogging I’ve been faithful to the topic of literature. As a storyteller, it seemed like the most natural thing: reading is my vocation. Almost a decade later, I’m itching to write about more.
My interests as I’ve grown and learned have developed considerably. Having read The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, I’ve come to understand that story isn’t limited to words on a page.
Story is a magic that’s not limited to paper and ink. In the beginning, sagas were spoken by bards. Before common people could read, they learned their history through sketches and paintings. Story can also be sung or played on musical instruments.
Lost in the rabbit hole of the Internet, a person can live their lifetime without ever really looking at a painting. Masters such as Van Gogh or Beethoven are more than online trends. I want to talk about the artists whose work helped form society.
Most Famous Smile
We’re going to begin by discussing the most famous painting in the world.
Is there a better way in which to introduce fine art? Mona Lisa has made it to meme fame; her face is on trendy t-shirts and bags. It’s tragic that people know what she looks like but few know who she is.
Mona Lisa, known in Italian as La Gioconda, has had an exciting life despite being trapped on canvas. She has been speculated over, stolen, and pulled into one of the wildest conspiracy theories.
At this time, she lives in the historic museum of the Louvre. So many tourists go there to visit La Gioconda (including myself!) that she has been given a room of her own. It’s bulletproof and its temperature is strictly controlled to protect her.
Who Is Mona Lisa?
Completed by the master Leonardo da Vinci in 1517, La Gioconda is categorized as a half-length painting. This is a term which refers to a portrait that only shows the subject’s upper half and hands.
Mona Lisa was commissioned by a wealthy silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. It was a portrait of his wife, Lisa, and took sixteen years for Leonardo to complete. It’s thought to have been painted in celebration of the birth of their second son.
Before Lisa del Giocondo was identified as the model, this painting presented a staggering puzzle. Alternate models were proposed such as Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Francavilla, and Renaissance art patron Isabella d’Este.
Some insist that Leonardo used himself as the model, but 21st century art historians refute this.
What’s It Like At Her House?
The Louvre had a history before it became a tourist hot spot. It was a fortress during the turbulent Middle Ages, a palace during the time of the monarchy, and Napoleon’s showcase for stolen art during the First Empire.
I visited the Louvre with my mom and brother. Because it was designed as a fortress, it’s unlike other museums I’ve seen with their straightforward floor plans. The Louvre is enormous; we didn’t have time to see everything.
I became pleasantly lost in the realm of the marble statues. It reminded me of the White Witch’s court in Narnia. Later I learned that the Louvre houses the Nike of Samothrace. I can’t believe I missed it, and hope to visit again for a look.
An Audience With La Gioconda
Mona Lisa is the Queen of the Louvre. If you wish to visit her, it means standing in line for at least half an hour. You ascend three elevators crowded with tourists who want to pay homage.
There is a sign by the entrance to her chamber. It says to make haste because of the many people who want to meet her.
When you enter the chamber, there’s a moment in which you think Is she really here? The Mona Lisa is depicted as enormous in cartoons and memes, but she’s actually the smallest painting in the vicinity.
La Gioconda measures 30 by 20 inches. The crowd is so packed that you must crane your neck to glimpse that famous smile. This is proof that you do not need to be the largest or most eye-catching to be powerful.
People then rush in to get their pictures. Drawing near to the legendary painting, you feel goosebumps. Regardless of her size, this is her–this is the lady everyone knows about to some degree, the goddess of Renaissance art.
In the City of Light you cannot delude yourself into believing story is limited to pages in books.
Stories pack the streets of Paris, waiting on the famous bridges and near bookselling bouquinistes. They linger near the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can imagine centuries of people stopping there to pray. They are sprawled on the sidewalks which, during the Revolution, glistened with pools of blood.
In our next tribute to La Gioconda, we’ll learn about the artist–just a little, because there’s not enough room in a blog post to depict Leonardo da Vinci in a way that’ll do him justice. I’ll enjoy my research; I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.