Merry Christmas. Season's Greetings. Happy New Year.
नव वर्ष की ढेर सारी शुभ कामनाएँ ।
Mona Lisa is famous, but how?
The poor painter, even after working on it for seventeen long years, could not make the lady smile, and so Mona Lisa became famous. Whatever little she gives off in the name of smile is touted to be enigmatic. I think it is not enigmatic as such; it is rather tentative, as though she is kind of unsure if she should smile or not. If one is happy, it is not necessary for her to measure how much of her happiness to make public and how much to withhold. Is it that she is not herself sure if she is happy at all? Here what she does is, well, half a smile. Some say it is sheepish and some other term it perfunctory, but nevertheless it is definitely sardonic. It is so very apparent from the aristocratic haughtiness oozing out of her posture. For ages people have made big fuss about the picture—once someone had stolen it in the name of patriotism, for he believed the work of art legitimately belonged to Italy; countries across the oceans have borrowed it to show the connoisseurs of their countrymen, incurring huge sums on its security and shipment; people have parodied it with sexual innuendoes and smoking pipes, so much so that they have referred to the painter’s alleged homosexuality; visitors have unleashed their acts of vandalism on the frail frame of it; researchers have spun theories after theories reading imaginary lines and scripts into it; and yet none has ever been able to strike a consensus as to its actual subject and aesthetics. It will sound nothing absurd if tomorrow some researcher comes up with his thesis that Mona Lisa was neither a lefty nor a right-hander but an ambidextrous! Another researcher might even test his thesis on medical line that Mona Lisa is in the initial month of her pregnancy! Some say the painting is the embodiment of eternal femininity whereas some doubt if the model was a woman at all. In fact, there have been either overstatements or understatements but the final word that would reflect the reality is not in sight.
But I saw tourists spending on an average less than 20 seconds to appreciate it, wonder it and take photographs from different corners without using flash. Oh yes, using flash is strictly prohibited as a conservation safeguard. None was wowing at the sight of the avant-grade work of art; none had any big adjectives of amazement on his or her lips. Everybody seemed to suppress his or her disappointment of getting no glimpse of the greatness they might have heard or read about the painting before they reached Musee du Louvre. Such is its greatness! It is supposed to be the most valuable work of art, valued at some $100 million in the year 1962. Isn’t it overrated? Here’s a picture of a woman with hairline receded and eyebrows denuded, eyes squinted and physique fattened. At best she could be a middle-aged housewife with calculating countenance and her skin glow and the robustness down the base of her neck accentuates the fact that she is at the doorstep of obesity. Many would agree with me—at least my daughter did, saying that there were better pictures in the gallery than Mona Lisa.
Now the test of realism, nay magic-realism: if Mona Lisa ever gets her human form and comes alive; what would she get? What I mean, for all her physical elegance would she get a job in showbiz worth at least 5000 euro a month? Would a studio in Italy hire her for modelling and if so, at what remuneration? Would Uniliver cast her in the advertisement of any of its beauty products, say Ponds or Lux? Would the artists of Kumarotoli ever model their images after Mona Lisa? Would Pothys or Chennai Silk drape their saris on Mona Lisa for promoting their upmarket products? Would she reach the final round of any one of the innumerable beauty pageants organised all over the globe day in and day out?
Be that as it may, big people should visit big places—Mona Lisa is included in the list. And I visited it. And that’s that.
While visiting Louvre we had made a decision to reach Mona Lisa first and then the rest of the objects of art. I think our decision was spontaneous, or maybe we were determined not to leave the most famous object while rushing through the museum. And in retrospect that turned out to be the best decision to have been taken under the circumstances. Whatever we saw thereafter, we had this to assure ourselves: ‘At least it is not like Mona Lisa.’
A N Nanda