The Laws of Nature

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Mona Leo

There are moments when I must reread a news article because it seems far-fetched. An article that appeared in the January 24, 2010 issues of Timesonline is another one of those moments.

Apparently, a team of scientists from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage wants to exhume the remains of Leonardo da Vinci. Why? They want to examine his face to see if the Mona Lisa is a disguised self-portrait. According to this article, some scholars have suggested that Leonardo’s presumed homosexuality and love of riddles led him to paint himself as a woman. Evidently, an American “expert” named Lillian Schwartz used computer programs to establish similarities between Leonardo’s self-portrait and the features on the Mona Lisa. They also want to determine if Leonardo suffered from lead poisoning, a common affliction of artists back then. Leonardo died in 1519 at the age of 67. This means that, if he’s exhumed, they’ll have to use his skull to reconstruct his face. I guess forensic artists are good at that these days. If this article is correct, exhumation could take place this summer.

This raises all kinds of questions in my mind:

1. It’s frequently said that artists interpret some of their own characteristics in every portrait of others that they paint. Isn’t it possible that Leonardo’s portraits were personal interpretations that may have included some of his own features just by chance?

2. What if Leonardo did intentionally paint himself as Mona Lisa? Does this prove the motivations they're assigning him?

3. Although this is an interesting question for science, should it be investigated? I don’t really have an opinion, but wonder how this would benefit humanity or the planet. In other words, does it really matter?

4. What are the implications for the art world? Are there any?

All this reminds me of The DaVinci Code. What other artist has fueled so much speculation??


Anonymous said...

what an interesting read with my morning cup of coffee...thank you Katharine!
i don't think it matters enough to dig someone up....

i'll browse on some more...seeing as my coffee isn't finished yet! then hopefully i can get busy with my own FEB 1ST post!

come by and visit sometime...

Carolyn Abrams said...

Whatever happenend to showing respect for the dead? I think it would be very respectful to do so and for what gain?

hw (hallie) farber said...

Exhuming da Vinci's body makes no sense. So what if he painted himself; maybe he was low on funds at the time and couldn't afford a model. Let him rest in peace. What matters are the notebooks and the few finished works he left behind.

Stan Kurth said...

This is a precedent society doesn't need. The Mona Lisa is what she is. Let's leave her enigmatic smile to speculation. I don't think anything conclusive can be proven with or without the latest and greatest forensic technology. Sounds to me like someone just wants a job.

Casey Klahn said...

I just finished the book @ LDV titled, How To Think Like A Genius, which is entirely about Leonardo. I'll provide a report sometime soon. (Yes, it's a self-help book, but it is about the man, too. I learned a lot)

At random:

LDV was cleared in court on the morals charge. That would seem the better evidence than some resemblance in the Mona Lisa. Was it a kangaroo court? Seems like it to me, but that question would be a better course of study, IMO.

Another thought is that the self-portrait as an older man is in question. It is thought to be the man, but is also considered to look too old. So, the "likeness source" is in doubt.

Further, the grave location itself is in doubt, since he was buried in a church, which was razed in the French Revolution (I believe) and so his remains were moved.

I ma more interested in the revision of history meme that is current today. Instead of digging up new historical data, we have to re-visit old knowledge, instead. Dismal.

jimserrettstudio said...

Funny this story is very close to the discussions yesterday here about artistic stereotypes.
The self portrait from Turin is the image people want to be Leonardo, this wizard genius. Like some character from the movie Lord of the Ring.
But reality is, … the image they are comparing to the Mona Lisa is probably not the Master.

...."The drawing (Figure 3), which is regarded to be a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, is certainly not a portrait of the great master. It depicts a man at the age of 70 to 75 years. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have the fortune to reach this age. The drawing in fact depicts either Leonardo’s father Ser Piero da Vinci or his beloved uncle Francesco da Vinci, both of whom died at the age of around 80. Some art historians instead made the ridiculous assumption that Leonardo da Vinci must have aged very quickly. The contemporaries of the great master described his looks very precisely, but they didn’t mention this phenomenon."....
In the following book,
Leonardo - des Meisters Gemälde und Zeichnungen in 360 Abbildungen. Reihe: Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben.

...."this portrait was definitely made at the beginning of the 90s of the 15th century. Leonardo was at that time not even 40 years old."....
Who is Mona Lisa – In Search for Her Identity. By Maike Vogt-Luerssen

There is a unique obsession of historians to know what Leonardo may have looked like.
The recent discovery inside of his notebook, Codex of Flight, of a youthful. “self- portrait” I think has added fuel to the fire. It seems that if you were to pursue this idea the codex image has more credibility for a comparison.
But for me the whole thing is a pretty far fetched theory.

Unknown said...

I have read or heard about this hypothesis before. I don't know why a very left brain mind needs to prove something created right brained!

We can let our imagination run the gamut from Leo being a closet transvestite to him painting what he knows best, his face. I think people want to put a meaning to Mona's smile. Some folks just can't let art be art.

-Don said...

My blood boils when I read such nonsense and I am biting my tongue HARD right now... What is to be truly gained with this?

They should take the money this ridiculous event would cost and send it to the relief effort in Haiti where it's really needed.


M said...

Some people have way too much time on their hands! I've heard this theory before but the thougth of exhuming a body and then using technology to reconstruct a face is beyond belief. There is nothing positive to be gained from such actions. Let sleeping(Leonardo) lie.

Shawna said...

WHat a silly waste of money! Who cares? It is fun to speculate since we can't time travel to see what was really going on.

Gee they should give the money to us artists so that we can create a piece that in hundreds of years someone else can speculate what we were thinking!

Unknown said...

Hi all - thanks so much for adding substance to this conversation. It seems taht we're in agreement that Leonardo's remains should be left alone and that the money and effort are best spent elsewhere. Some of you have done scholarship on Leonardo and I appreciate that you've shared what you know. Casey, I'll be interested to read your summary when you've written it.
Again, thank you!

Angela said...

I'm crazy for info about Leo, but I'd be a lot more excited if they found any of his missing notebooks than if they answered any of these silly questions - I just can't find a reason to care about any of that and I don't see how exhuming his body answers anything anyway.

At the same time, I really don't think a 'person' is in their dead body and with all loved ones long dead I could care less if someone wants to dig up this body (assuming it's even his - which it very well may not be) and mess around with it...

...but it sure seems like an awfully big waste of time and money to me. I just don't see how it answers any real questions at all. I want info about how his brain worked, what he thought about etc...I could care less what he looked like.

Carolyn Abrams said...

sorry. I meant to say "dis respect" in my post. a waste of time, money and talent!

layers said...

I also heard this somewhere and at the time thought it all sounded pretty silly-- did not realize they are seriously considering this-- and I also think-- so what if it is true?-- I realize it is the one piece of art most recognized-- even among the general population.. even if they dig up his body-- it will probably still be debated and subjective-- and to what purpose?

Anonymous said...
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Dan Kent said...

Firstly, exhuming his body for this purpose is disgusting and disrespectful. I think that no motive can be assigned absent historical evidence - like written statements of a colleague, and even then the motives of the colleague would have to be examined. And the implications can be summed up as follows: everyone loves a scandal. The question itself is better viewed as an indictment on our society. I second Don!

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Katharine,

If the painting were not as famous as it is and if Leonardo were not as famous as he is, then we would not care.

But there is so much mystery that surounds the painting, since we do not know for certain who the person is and do we not love a good mystery?

On one hand it would be interesting to know, but then also not. For if we were to solve the speculations that the painting is of Leonardo, then I fear the painting will have lost not only its mystery, but also its charm.

Having said that, I think I would not want to know.

Warmest regards,

Unknown said...

This was a lively discussion, and -remarkable - we all came to the same conclusion! Thank you all, once again, for your contributions.

Mark Sheeky said...

Self portrait - pah! He was painting a premonitive portrait of Marcel Duchamp :) I thought Leo's bones were lost, and I thought that the sanguine self-portrait was not him at all. Why not dig up the bones of Lisa del Giocondo instead?