By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A man disguised as an old woman attacked the Mona Lisa last week. He tried to smash the glass case in which the painting is housed, before smearing it with cake and throwing roses around. The Mona Lisa is the world’s most famous painting.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a Renaissance portrait without rival. People from all over the world travel to Paris to see it hanging in the Louvre. Last week, a man dressed as an old woman and using a wheelchair approached the masterpiece for unusual reasons.
The unknown assailant leapt from the wheelchair and tried to smash the protective glass covering the famous painting. When that failed, he smeared cake on the glass—temporarily obscuring much of the lower half of the painting from view—and threw roses around the area, all before security tackled him and removed him from the scene. Witnesses said he may have been a climate activist, as some claim that the vandal cried out in French about humans destroying the planet, saying they were the reason for his actions.
The Mona Lisa is the world’s most famous piece of artwork. In his video series Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance, Professor William Kloss, an independent art scholar and historian, explains the significance of the painting.
The Woman with the One-in-a-Million Smile
The “Mona” in Mona Lisa is a contraction for “ma donna,” or “my lady.” Likewise, the full name of the painting’s subject was Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini, and according to Professor Kloss, she was about 24 years old at the time she was immortalized in the painting.
“The portrait was made soon after Leonardo’s return to Florence, and it shows the lady seated on a loggia,” he said. “There is, then, a fantastic landscape of rivers and rocks stretching into the distance. The landscape is related to those already imagined by Leonardo in earlier paintings from the very beginning, in the background of the Baptism he helped Verrochio on.”
In terms of the composition, the background of the painting is linked—very intentionally—to her head and shoulders in beautiful and subtle ways. Professor Kloss said that if a viewer follows the lines of the background, the height of the background, and other elements in relationship to the body, it’s easy to see how Da Vinci adjusted the background to the figure itself.
“Her full figure, and she is full-figured, is animated by the gentle turn from the three-quarter torso to the nearly frontal face,” he said. “It’s even more complex than Ginerva de’ Benci—the torso three-quarter, the head further forward. The modeling of the very relaxed hands—and rather boneless hands—and face dissolves all line into shadow.”
Any linear elements in Mona Lisa essentially become little pools, pockets, and areas of shadow, which help to give her features her famous shifting and unfathomable expression. Professor Kloss said that it’s been said that Leonardo da Vinci spent three years on the painting and in the end kept it for himself rather than delivering it.
“He, obviously, didn’t deliver it, because it was with him when he died in France, and with other paintings that he had taken with him—or made after he arrived in France—it entered the French royal collection,” Professor Kloss said. “This one, of course, like the others, went into the Louvre.”
The Mona Lisa has survived 500 years—and a smearing of cake.